Tuesday, September 20, 2016

49ers stick around before falling late to Panthers

Week 2 - With the 49ers on the road in Carolina on short rest to face the defending NFC Champion Panthers (0-1), they'd be given a tall task if they wanted to improve to 2-0 on the year. As if being on short rest wasn't already a disadvantage in the NFL, Carolina on the other hand had as much rest as you could possibly want, having played four days earlier than San Francisco in the Thursday night opener in a Super Bowl rematch against the Broncos. And with the Panthers coming up short, suffering a heart-wrenching 21-20 loss on a missed field goal by kicker Graham Gano as time expired, we all knew Carolina would come into their home-opener with a chip on their shoulder and in need of a big win to bounce back and avoid an 0-2 start. After kickoff, it would be the 49ers who got off to a fast start as the San Francisco defense came up with an interception on Cam Newton's first pass attempt of the afternoon just two plays in.

Unfortunately, the 49ers would have to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. After forcing Carolina to punt on their second possession, the Niners had a chance to jump out to an even bigger lead in the 1st quarter, but a Carlos Hyde fumble inside his own 20 would put the Panthers on the board and ahead as the ball was recovered and taken into the end zone for a Carolina touchdown. The 49er defense would turn the tables on Carolina's next offensive possession, forcing a fumble and this time capitalizing with a trip to the end zone as Blaine Gabbert found Torrey Smith for a 28-yard touchdown. San Francisco's 10-7 lead would be short lived, however, as a 78-yard bomb on Carolina's next play would put them back ahead for good as Newton connected with his tight-end Greg Olsen who was left all alone down the middle. The Panthers would add a late field goal to take a 17-10 lead into the half as San Francisco still had hopes of pulling off the upset.
Those hopes would vanish, reappear and then vanish once again in the second half as the game soon became the Kelvin Benjamin show. Having missed all of the 2015 season last year with a torn ACL suffered during training camp, the former first round draft pick has picked up right where he left off before the injury and has shown no ill effects of a surgically repaired knee as he caught touchdown passes on back to back drives to open the second half. Thanks to their dominant 3rd quarter, the Panthers lead would improve to 31-10 as the game seemed well out of reach for the 49ers. But as soon as the 4th quarter started, things began to turn in the 49ers favor. Two plays into the final period, the San Francisco defense would flush Newton out of the pocket for a sack, forcing him to fumble and turning the miscue into three points. A muffed punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. on the ensuing kick would put the Niners offense right back in business on the 1-yard line. Gabbert would do it himself on the very next play, prancing into the end zone untouched.

With plenty of game left and the Panthers hanging onto a 34-20 lead midway thru the 4th, the 49ers would pull off their biggest play of the game on a 75-yard catch and dash touchdown as Gabbert found tight-end Vance McDonald who was aided with a nice block from receiver Quinton Patton as he ran down the sideline for the score. After Carolina answered with a field goal to make it a two possession game, Gabbert who had registered a clean game up to that point, would suffer a pair of late 4th quarter interceptions, dooming any chance of pulling off the miraculous comeback. Newton would put the Niners out of their misery with a late touchdown to Devin Funchess, giving him four touchdown passes on the afternoon and putting him over the 350-yards passing mark. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart would suffer a hamstring injury early on in the game which opened the door for backup RB Fozzy Whittaker who filled in quite nicely by rushing for 100 yards on 16 carries in Stewart's absence. As for San Francisco's run game which wasn't nearly as effective as it was in Week 1, Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn were held to a combined 55 yards on 23 carries. Gabbert finished with 243 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in the 46-27 loss.
Week 3 Preview - With the 49ers traveling to Seattle to take on the bitter rival Seahawks (1-1) in Week 3, San Francisco will need a win in order to hang on to first place in the division. With the Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers all 1-1 thru the first two weeks of the season, the 49ers are the only team in the NFC West with a 1-0 record within the division, thus giving them sole possession of first place in the early going. Though it's been years since the 49ers have able to pull off a win in Seattle, Pete Carroll's Seahawks haven't looked too good thru the first two weeks after surviving a late scare at Home to the Dolphins in Week 1 followed by a loss to the Rams on Sunday. But by no means will coach Chip Kelly and company be able to underestimate Seattle QB Russell Wilson, even if he's still hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in Week 1. With another stout effort on defense and a bounce back performance on the ground from Carlos Hyde as well as clean game in the turnover department from Blaine Gabbert, the 49ers may be able to leave Seattle with a 'W'.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

49ers Welcome Rams back to L.A. with 28-point Spanking

The Silence of the Lambs - With the 49ers and Rams the last two teams to take the field to start the 2016-17 NFL season, all eyes were on Los Angeles and San Francisco for many reasons as football fans in L.A. finally had a team to call their own again and fans of the red and gold anxiously awaited the start of the Chip Kelly era. And with the 49ers 2 1/2 point underdogs at home despite an eight game winning-streak on Monday Night Football (all by double-digits), San Francisco took it to the odds makers once again after pulling a 20-3 upset against the Vikings to open last season on Monday night. And boy would the books be wrong once again in this one as the 49ers recorded their first ever shutout victory to open a season in franchise history.

After a punt on their initial drive, the 49ers got things going on their second possession with running back Carlos Hyde capitalizing on an 11-yard touchdown run up the middle to put San Francisco up early. As for Hyde's counterpart -- Todd Gurley, who ran amok in his rookie season last year, including a dominant Week 8 performance against the Niners in which he tallied 133 yards on the ground, the San Francisco defense was well prepared for the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year this time around as they held him to a measly 47 yards on 17 carries. With the game expected to be an offensive struggle with both team's leading running backs expected to carry the load, only half of that expectation would live up to the billing as Gurley and company were simply stopped in their tracks and failed to get anything going on offense throughout. The one first half drive which appeared to be promising for the Rams, soon went up in flames as Keenum had a pass deflect off a teammates helmet and into the arms of 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman for an interception. It would be the first of two interceptions by the 49ers defense as pre-season standout Ray-Ray Armstrong continued to shine on Monday night with an interception of his own late in the third quarter.
Hoping to turn that turnover into points, the 49ers would do just that as San Francisco marched their way down the field with backup running back Shaun Draughn punching it in from 3-yards out to pull ahead, 14-0. Looking to make it three consecutive scoring drives for the Niners, they would appear to be heading in the right direction after crossing midfield and into enemy territory on an 11-yard catch and go to Draughn who dodged a pair of tackles, but the second-year 49er would be stripped from behind after one too many nifty moves. Luckily, it wouldn't come back to haunt the Niners as they went into the half in command of a 14-0 lead. While the Rams were still unable to generate any offense to start the second half, their defense managed to step it up, forcing four straight three and outs by the 49er offense as they failed to convert a single first down in the third quarter. To put the struggle into perspective, at one point in the game there would be more punts (15) than points scored (14). But as soon as the fourth quarter began, it's like the 49ers remembered how to play offense again, driving down the field to score their third touchdown, this time through the air as QB Blaine Gabbert found tight-end Vance McDonald for the easy score to make it 21-0.

With the game out of reach and down to its last few minutes, things would get chippy when Rams Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald got into a scuffle with Niners receiver Quinton Patton, knocking the helmet off his head before making contact with an official. After tacking on a pair of penalties, Donald would be disqualified as he slammed his helmet on the turf before walking off the field. It would only get worse as Carlos Hyde ran it in for his second touchdown of the night just plays later as the 49ers put the Rams out of their misery by making it a 28-0 route. Converting 28 first downs compared to L.A.'s 10, it would be the first shutout victory for the Niners since a 2012 victory against the Jets and their sixth consecutive season-opening win, the most they've stringed together in franchise history as they begin the year 1-0 in the Chip Kelly era.
As for the Rams and their fans living in L.A., the 21 year wait was spoiled as they were held scoreless for the first time since Week 11 of 2011. After trading up in the off-season to acquire the first overall pick in the NFL Draft to select QB Jared Goff out of Cal, the Rams elected not to start the season with Goff as the quarterback following  a disappointing pre-season in which he struggled mightily. But after seeing QB Case Keenum's poor attempt at the position, it's hard to believe the Rams aren't better off handing the reigns to Goff going forward just to get him as many reps as possible. Not to mention he can't do much worse under center than Keenum did as he was held to just 130 yards while completing 17 of 35 pass attempts. Gabbert didn't necessarily have himself a game for the ages either, completing 22 of 35 passes for 170 yards and adding another 43 yards on the ground, but he did what he needed to and allowed Carlos Hyde to do the rest, rushing for 88 yards and a pair of TD's.

Week 2 Preview: With the exception of a Shaun Draughn fumble in the second quarter, the 49ers played an extremely clean game, committing only two penalties and not allowing a single sack. Though it's just one game, it's a huge step forward after being one of the most penalized teams in the league a season ago and owning one of the NFL's worst offensive-lines. With a match-up on the road against the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers in Week 2, the Niners will once again need a stellar performance on defense and a clean game in the penalty department if they want to improve to 2-0 with another upset victory over reigning MVP Cam Newton and company. It won't be easy, however, as Carolina's linebackers Luke Keuchle & Thomas Davis will most likely be a handful for Gabbert and the 49er offense. Not to mention the Panthers will be playing with a chip on their shoulder while looking to avenge a tough loss at Denver to open the season on Thursday night which means they'll be very rested come kickoff. 


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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Giants Month in Review - August 2016

If the month of July was a bad dream for the San Francisco Giants who saw their division lead in the NL West drop to as low as 1-game, August was a nightmare with Buster Posey's head-first slide (shown above) being the lasting image of another disappointing month. Beginning the month by losing four of their first five series to the tone of a 5-10 record, the Giants' free-fall continued as August 16 saw the G-Men fall out of first place for the first time since the month of May. With the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers playing some of their best ball of the year despite being without their best player in ace Clayton Kershaw and the Giants doing the exact opposite, San Francisco would watch L.A. leap-frog them in the standings by as many as 3 games.

After a sluggish 9-game road trip in which the Giants lost back to back series in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. by dropping two of three before turning the tables in Miami to take two of three against the Marlins, San Francisco returned home where they would lose seven of ten. A heart-wrenching loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the series-finale which the Giants were 1-out away from winning, coupled with a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates left a sour taste in the mouth of Giants fans. And though they would take the first two games at home against the reigning National League champion New York Mets, they would drop the next two to split the 4-game series. Even considering their month-long struggle, the Giants remained in striking distance of rival L.A. and had themselves a golden opportunity to recapture first place with a date with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, Bruce Bochy's ball club would fail to show up to yet another series as they dropped the first two games before salvaging the series-finale thanks to a career night from the newly acquired Matt Moore who came within one out of becoming the first Giants pitcher to no-hit the Dodgers in over 100 years.
Needing one more out to etch his name into the record books, Dodgers rookie Corey Seager fought off a 2-out single to end Moore's near perfect night as the Giants completed the 4-0 victory. Though Moore would fall just short, one Giants pitcher who did make history was All-Star Madison Bumgarner who recorded his 200th strikeout of the season against the Dodgers, joining some elite company (Christy Mathewson, Amos Rusie, Juan Marichal and former teammate Tim Lincecum) with his third consecutive 200 strikeout season and becoming the first left-hander in franchise history to accomplish the feat.

Following the brief three-game trip to L.A., the Giants returned home to AT&T Park for five games where they would play host to the lowly Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks. After taking two of three against the Braves including a 13-4 shellacking in which the Giants matched a franchise-record (SF-era) with four triples in the same game which would also witness second baseman Joe Panik log his first career multi-home run game, San Francisco split the two-game set with the D-Backs, thanks to another strong outing from Matt Moore to closeout the month. With an 11-16 record in August, the Giants currently sit 1.5 games behind first place with an overall record of 72-60. And unless they wake up fast, the Giants could see the window of opportunity close as their first match-up of September will be no easy task when they hit the north side of Chicago for a four-game meeting with the Cubs who own the best record in all of baseball at 85-47. And with a 3-game stop at Colorado's Coors Field to follow, the first week of September will be challenging to say the least. With six games against the Dodgers remaining on the schedule, including four in September, the Giants have ample time and a fair chance to catch up and surpass L.A. in the standings, but not if Buster Posey and company continue to slump at the plate like they have been. With a slight edge over the St. Louis Cardinals for the first of two NL Wild Card spots, the Giants will need to finish September strong if they plan to maintain a playoff spot and continue their even year streak of being World Series champions.
Noteworthy: One of the brighter highlights in the month of August was the 7-hit performance by Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford who collected seven base knocks, including a go-ahead knock in the 14th inning of an 8-7 win over the Marlins. Crawford tied an all-time single-game National League record with seven hits in eight at-bats and has continued to be one of the better run-producers for the Giants, leading the team by more than 10 RBI's. With his 7-hit performance, Crawford joins the rare company of Rennie Stennett (1975) and Wilbert Robinson (1892) as the only players in the history of the National League to connect for seven hits in a single ball game. 


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Monday, August 8, 2016

International Hit King

Major League Baseball's exclusive 3,000 Hit Club has a new member and he goes by the name of Ichiro Suzuki. The Japanese baseball sensation who will soon be 43 years old, continues to pile on the milestones long after his prime, with his latest accolade making him just the 30th player in MLB history to reach the 3,000 hit plateau. Re-signing a 1-year deal with the Miami Marlins in the offseason with a club option for 2017, Ichiro has served a limited role almost as a utility man, often coming in to pinch-hit or as the team's fourth outfielder. And with a large contingent of Japanese baseball writers following him on the road after he was unable to collect the milestone hit at home in Miami, it would be Denver's Coors Field which saw the future Hall of Famer etch his name into the record books as he legged out a triple off of Rockies pitcher Chris Rusin for hit No. 3,000.

Given Suzuki didn't make his MLB debut until the age of 27 due to his time in his native Japan, he became only the second player ever to reach 3,000 hits after his 27th birthday, joining Pete Rose as the only other player to reach that feat. He also joins Cap Anson and Rickey Henderson as the only players to record hit No. 3,000 after turning 42. With many doubting Ichiro could succeed in the MLB due to his frame which pundits declared was too fragile upon migrating from Japan to the U.S., Suzuki proved doubters wrong and silenced his critics by winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP Award in his first campaign while a member of the Seattle Mariners. He would string together a record 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200-hits to begin a career before setting a single-season record with 262 hits in 2004, breaking George Sisler's mark of 254 hits which stood for 84-years. While 3,000 hits is Ichiro's most recent milestone, it's not the only milestone he's accomplished in 2016 as he stole his 500th base back in April which made him one of only eight players to have stolen 500 bags and collect 2,900 hits in a career. And then there's baseball's all-time hits list.
Back in June, Ichiro leapfrogged Pete Rose to become baseball's all-time hits leader when combining the hits he's accumulated throughout his career in both the Japanese League and Major League Baseball. Though it's been several months now since Ichiro connected for hit No. 4,257, one more than Rose finished his career with, it's interesting how little attention it's been given throughout the world of sports. While most critics aren't ready to dub Ichiro the "Hit King" just yet, given 1,278 of those 4,257 career hits came during his time in the Japanese League where the talent pool isn't quite up to par with that of the MLB. However, some would argue that the talent in Japan is just as good and that Ichiro does in fact deserve the crown. Had he played his entire career in the Majors, we likely wouldn't be having this discussion and Ichiro would be crowned without any debate from Rose or anyone else for that matter.

Breaking down the 3,000: Ichiro compiled 2,533 of his hits while a member of the Seattle Mariners whom he will one day represent in Cooperstown. Another 311 hits while spending 2+ seasons in New York with the Yankees, and the last 156 hits (and counting) with the Marlins.


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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Giants Month in Review - July 2016

Turning the page from June to July for the San Francisco Giants, only one win had separated the G-Men from the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers for tops in the league. But it wouldn't be long before Bruce Bochy saw his ball club climb atop the baseball ranks to capture baseball's top spot following a 7-2 start to the month before putting on the brakes in time for the All-Star break. Aside from Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto who started in the Mid-Summer Classic and Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner who made the trip to San Diego as reserves for the NL All-Star team, the rest of the Giants enjoyed their brief break from the game. Maybe a little too much as they appeared to still be on vacation after the All-Star festivities had concluded.

After cruising into the All-Star break with the best record in all of baseball (57-33) for only the second time since the franchise moved out west in 1958, and bested only by a 59-30 mark in 1993, San Francisco would hit a wall and begin to sputter by losing their first six games after the break, being swept on the road by both the Padres and Red Sox. The funk wouldn't end there, however, as they dropped two of three in the Bronx to the Yankees before returning home to lose two of three against the lowly Cincinnati Reds. Another pair of losses to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals would see the Giants' grasp on the NL Western division dwindle down to just a single game over the arch-rival Dodgers after a game in which the G-Men hit into the first ever 3-3-5 triple-play in baseball history and the Nationals' first triple-play since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2006. In need of a spark, the Giants welcomed back their emotional leader -- Hunter Pence (hamstring) off of the disabled-list as well as second baseman Joe Panik who had been battling a concussion, while also adding a bat by trading for Minnesota All-Star Eduardo Nunez. Leading the American League in steals with 26, the Giants went out and nabbed Nunez to fill the void at third base left by the injured Matt Duffy (Achilles) who's been out since mid-June. Nunez, 29 years old, comes in hitting .300 with 12 home runs and 47 RBI and serves as a utility man, playing just about anywhere along the infield.
The newest Giant would make a great first impression, as Nunez connected for a 2-run double in the fourth inning to tie the game in his first start with San Francisco. The Giants would utilize some small ball the rest of the way to seal the much needed win with a 5-3 victory. Though it would take them more than two weeks, the Giants would finally string together their first winning streak of the second half by taking the final two games against the Nats to split the four-game set and finish the month of July with their first pair of consecutive wins since the break. Before their second-half skid, the Giants had taken series victories against the Diamondbacks and Rockies by taking two of three against both clubs before sweeping Arizona at home to end the half. But while their July schedule was looked upon as rather easy, the month of August figures to be anything but, as they hit the road for a 9-game road trip to kickoff the month. After a three-game visit to Philadelphia to face the rebuilding but scrappy Phillies, the Giants will take on the Nationals once more before concluding their trip in Miami to square off with the wild card hopeful Marlins. And when returning to AT&T Park, San Francisco's first homestand won't be any easier as they welcome the Orioles, Pirates and Mets into town. A brief three-game stop in southern California to renew rivalries with the Dodgers will end the stretch of formidable opponents with the Braves and D-Backs rounding out the end of August. 

While you would think the Giants would have the edge in a favorable match-up to begin the month of August by facing the Phillies with Bumgarner on the mound, not so fast as the Giants have actually lost six of the last eight games started by MadBum, including a loss at home to these same Phillies back in late-June. This after they had won his previous ten starts. Bumgarner has logged consecutive strong outings after a disappointing start the first game after the All-Star break, but has suffered from a lack of run support. The Giants hope to get him back on track at the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park as they currently lead the division by two games ahead of the Dodgers and stand at 61-44 on the year after posting an 11-13 record in July.
The Giants also had one of the more busier afternoon's during the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline on Monday, trading for two lefty arms to address their need for pitching. Even days before the deadline was looming, the Giants had been rumored to be among the teams interested in Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore, but with a starting infielder likely who Tampa Bay wanted in return, San Francisco wasn't expected to pull the trigger on the pitcher who was brought up to be the future of the Rays organization. But with third baseman Matt Duffy battling an injury for over a month now and Nunez on the team, the Giants saw Duffy as expendable and turned those doubts into reality just minutes before the deadline by shipping him to Tampa along with a pair of prospects, including the highly-rated Lucious Fox (infielder). While some Giants fans would disagree, Duffy might not have been the toughest piece to part with, however, as the Giants also dealt their top pitching prospect in Phil Bickford, the club's No.1 draft pick a year ago. Bickford was packaged with catcher Andrew Susac to Milwaukee in exchange for high-volume strikeout reliever Will Smith.
Having been in need of an arm to solidify the bullpen practically all season long, the Giants finally acquired the late-inning relief help they've so desperately needed, but paid a hefty price in doing so. Expected to be added into the mix to pitch the later innings right away, Smith went 1-3 with a 3.68 ERA in Milwaukee this year, striking out 22 batters in 22 innings while missing the first two months of the season due to a knee injury. As for Moore, it's unsure who the lefty starter will replace in the starting rotation out of Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. Boasting a record of 7-7 and an ERA of 4.08 in 21 starts this season, Moore has been pitching lights-out as of late as is riding a hot streak in his last six starts, pitching to the tone of a 1.99 ERA since June 29. With both Moore and Smith 27 years of age and under club control through 2019, both players will have more than just this season to prove the Giants made the right move in giving up top talent at the Minor League level. 


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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Durant: Goodbye OKC, Hello Golden State

The moment the buzzer sounded after the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to put the Golden State Warriors out of their misery in the Western Conference Finals, allowing the defending champs to overcome a 3-1 deficit and make it to their second consecutive Finals appearance, Kevin Durant was as good as gone. But where he would decide to take his talents was anybodies guess, with meetings scheduled with the Warriors, Spurs, Clipppers, Celtics, Heat and of course the Thunder. Sure the idea to team up in the Bay Area with Steph Curry and company was a logical one, but we didn't think it would actually happen. Whether it be financial problems or just plain old chemistry issues due to adding yet another superstar to a squad that already has three, KD to Golden State -- the team that just handed him and the Thunder franchise arguably their most crushing defeat, wins the Durant sweepstakes and hands Oklahoma City yet another punch to the gut. But hey, at least Durant was courteous enough to announce his decision on the Fourth of July, making it easier for the pyro's living in Oklahoma to burn their jersey's.

With the salary cap increasing by $24 Million this offseason, the timing was perfect for the Warriors, enabling them to acquire another superstar talent to add to their already star-studded lineup. After setting a record for the most wins in a regular season with 74, the Warriors now have a chance to be even greater than they were in 2015-16, thanks to the signing of Durant. Not to mention Oklahoma City, one of Golden State's biggest threats out west, is now hampered with the departure of their former MVP. With the signing of Durant who agreed to a 2 year, $54.3 Million deal with a player option after the first year, now come the lofty expectations of delivering a championship, something Durant has come close to, four years removed from his only NBA Finals appearance, but has yet to accomplish. Anything short of back-to-back titles for Golden State in 2015-16 was already deemed a failure considering their record-setting regular season, but the pressure to deliver a title will be even higher this coming season. After blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the first time ever, head coach Steve Kerr knew work needed to be done and adjustments needed to be made in order to climb back to the hilltop of greatness and become champions once again. Landing Durant was their answer. 
While many criticized LeBron James in the summer of 2010 for making the unpopular decision to leave the Cavs for the sunny beaches of Miami, Durant's decision has also had its fair share of critics, but nowhere near the magnitude of LeBron's. In some ways it's worse and in others it's not quite on par on the hate-o-meter and here's why. James' decision was not only criticized because he left his home state of Ohio, but because the manner in which he made it. As if announcing in front of a live television crew that he would take his talents to South Beach didn't rub people the wrong way, his WWE-like introduction alongside best friend Dwayne Wade and All-Star teammate Chris Bosh where he told the world they would win "not five, not six, not seven..." NBA titles, sealed the deal for most people. But Durant isn't leaving the area in which he was born and raised in, nor was he brought up and brought in to be the savior out of high school like James was.

As for a few reason's it's just as bad if not worse, Kevin Durant is all Oklahoma City fans have ever known. Since being drafted in 2007 by the Thunder, known then as the Seattle SuperSonics, OKC fans have watched Durant grow and develop into one of the game's elite players right before their very eyes. He now leaves them to chase a ring, joining the enemy in the process. And unlike Cleveland's situation when LeBron left, the Thunder are the only major sports franchise in the city (hell, in the state for that matter) which is why they've been so loyal and invested in the team since relocating from Seattle. Durant's contributions inside the Oklahoma City community will never be forgotten, but I think it's safe to say he'll be showered with boo's every time he touches the ball when the Warriors pay a visit to Chesapeake Arena next season. To their credit, the Thunder franchise and their fans were a little more prepared for life after Durant than Cleveland was when LeBron left the Cavs. It wasn't for a lack of help as was the case in Cleveland, but with former Sixth Man of the Year James Harden long gone and both Durant and Serge Ibaka now out the door, the 2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder will be an entirely different team than the one that made it's lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012 as the reigns are now handed to Russell Westbrook who's departure from the franchise may be next.
With the future of fellow superstar and teammate of Durant's for eight seasons, Russell Westbrook also uncertain, who will become a free-agent following next season, Durant wasn't exactly promised that his sidekick and partner in crime would be there after next season had he re-signed long-term with OKC. While the possibility of Durant returning to the Thunder the same way LeBron did the Cavs, could present itself say if Golden State wins a title in Durant's first year with the team, he may want to consider being a Warrior for the long haul seeing as they have the potential to be even better than the Heat were when James, Wade, Bosh and Ray Allen teamed up in Miami. With Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green all under the age of 29, younger than Wade was when Miami's super team was formed in 2010, Durant could be part of a dynasty for many seasons to come if he chooses to stay with the Warriors past this season. With an Olympic gold medal, Rookie of the Year Award, four NBA-scoring titles, seven All-Star appearances and an MVP Award to show for, the only thing missing in Durant's trophy case is an NBA title. And for the first time in his career, he'll be on a team that's the odds on favorite to win it all and add to that case heading into the season.


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Friday, July 1, 2016

Giants Month in Review - June 2016

Entering the month of June, the Giants looked to continue their winning ways after a red-hot month of May. But they would be greeted rather rudely right out the gates as their All-Star outfielder and emotional voice and leader of the team -- Hunter Pence, was forced to leave a game against the Braves after straining his hamstring on a routine run to first base. The news would only get worse as an MRI the following day revealed Pence had torn the tendon in his left hamstring and would require surgery, putting him on the shelf for 8 weeks and further hampering a Giants outfield that was already without Angel Pagan. With Pence leading the team in RBI's and second in both home runs and batting average at the time of his injury, any panic of the Giants' continued dominance simply vanishing wasn't exactly far-fetched, but it wouldn't be the case as they would do just fine without him.

Needing to take advantage of a relatively easy schedule with the exception of a three game stop in St. Louis to face the Cardinals and hosting the Red Sox and Dodgers in five, the Giants would do just that. After splitting the final two games in Atlanta, the Giants would take the first of three in St. Louis before losing the next two and returning home to host visiting Boston and Los Angeles. In a short but exciting 2-game set against the Red Sox, the Giants would split the series before taking two of three from the archrival Dodgers. With a slow 3-5 start to the month, it wouldn't be long before the Giants once again caught fire and stringed together their second 8-game winning-streak of the season thanks to sweeps against the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays. Seeking their first 9-game win streak since 2004, the Giants seemed destined to win their ninth straight seeing as they had won 10 consecutive games started by ace Madison Bumgarner. But the streak would come to a halt after suffering a tough 1-0 loss in the series-opener against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. However, the Giants would avenge Bumgarner's tough-luck loss by winning the next three in the steel city to take the series, 3 games to 1. Despite suffering the loss, Bumgarner would set a career-best streak of allowing 2 earned runs or fewer in 12 consecutive starts, while also tying the longest streak in the MLB this season for the most consecutive outings allowing 1 earned run or fewer with six.
But with another road trip coming to an end, the Giants would once again return home shorthanded as the injury bug bit once more. Just days after second baseman Joe Panik sustained a concussion in Tampa Bay, third baseman Matt Duffy suffered a strained left Achilles during the series in Pittsburgh as both would join Pence on the DL. Not all injury news was bad, however, as Angel Pagan returned to the lineup as well as Sergio Romo who began his rehab stint with Triple-A Sacramento and is expected back in the coming days while recovering from a strained elbow flexor tendon in his throwing arm. He'll be welcomed back to the club with open arms as the Giants bullpen has struggled mightily this year as is likely to be addressed. While a power bat is also needed and on their list, adding a relief pitcher or two might be forthcoming as baseball's trade deadline looms exactly a month from today (July 1).

Playing host to the Phillies for three games, San Francisco and Philadelphia would split the first two games before the Giants took the series and won the finale in walk-off fashion with their MLB-leading 7th walk-off victory of the season. But they would fail to close out the month strong, losing three of four against the lowly Bay Area rival Oakland A's who took both games in San Francisco for the first time since 2008 and handed the Giants only their second loss in AT&T Park history when scoring 11 runs or more in a high-scoring 13-11 shootout. With the series shifting to Oakland for two, the Giants dropped game three before salvaging the fourth and final game with a 12-run outburst. In the win, the Giants became the first team since the 1976 Chicago White Sox to forego a designated-hitter and hit with the pitcher. But considering Madison Bumgarner doesn't hit like your typical pitcher and was rumored to be interested in participating in this year's Home Run Derby, it wasn't as questionable a move by manager Bruce Bochy as one would think. And considering it was Bumgarner who sparked a 6-run third inning with a lead-off double to center field, I'd say it was a good decision after all.
June also saw Giants skipper Bruce Bochy claim his his 800th win as manager of the team, joining Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson as the only managers in MLB history to win 800 games with two different ball clubs and just the fourth to reach 800 wins with the Giants. With his team currently 50-31 on the season after finishing 17 and 10 in June and sitting in first place 6 games ahead in the NL West, San Francisco has extended their division lead another game and a half in June and are only one win behind the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers for the most in baseball. After a dominant month of May, right-handed pitcher Johnny Cueto logged another stellar month in June, his only blemish being a 6-run, 6-inning outing against the Phillies in which he logged a no-decision to the tune of a 2.67 ERA in the month with 3-wins and no losses. One of those wins coming against the Milwaukee Brewers who he has now recorded eight straight victories against, the longest winning streak against any single opponent of his career. Cueto will also kickoff the month of July for the Giants who will make a pit-stop in Arizona to take on the D-Backs for three games before returning home for a 7-game homestand against the division-rival Rockies followed by another meeting with the Diamondbacks prior to the All-Star break. From there, Bochy and company will hit the road for eight games against the Padres, Red Sox and Yankees before returning home and closing out the month against the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals. GO GIANTS! 


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, June 20, 2016

LeBron, Cavs Dethrone Champs in Decisive Game 7

Cleveland sports fans rejoice! For the first time in 50+ years, it doesn't suck being a sports fan living in Cleveland now that the Cavaliers have pulled off the unthinkable by winning three straight against the vaunted Golden State Warriors to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy and bring Cleveland its first championship (of any kind) since 1964. With their backs against the wall, LeBron James and company rallied to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Against a Golden State team that compiled the best regular season record of all-time no less. Although they needed a little bit of luck and perseverance to get the job done, it took an all-time great series from LeBron James to complete the comeback as the one they call, "King James" registered only the third triple-double ever in an NBA Finals game 7 and became the first player to ever lead a series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. While many including myself thought LeBron James was on the decline, he proved otherwise with what just might go down as the greatest series performance in an NBA Finals. Though he only had 27-points in the decisive game 7, he logged 41-points in games 5 & 6, including a 41-point outburst by both James and teammate Kyrie Irving as the two became the first duo in Finals history to each score 40-points or more in a single game.

LeBron did it all as evident of his statistical dominance. His most remarkable feat of the night, however, just might be the chase down block he had on Andre Iguodala. With the game tied at 89-89, Golden State appeared to be on their way to a 2-point lead with just under two minutes remaining when Steph Curry and Iguodala had J.R. Smith all alone on a two on one fast-break. And then out of the shadows soaring from behind, racing in full speed was James who swatted both the ball and any hopes the Warriors had left, like he's done so often throughout his career. But this time was different. It was almost as if Golden State had the air knocked out of them following what I'll always refer to as, "the block heard round the world." The play that will go down as one of the greatest defensive plays in NBA Finals history rattled the Warriors who were unable to score a another basket. Lock down defense by the Cavs coupled with poor shot selection from the Warriors doomed the defending champs who suddenly went dry from the floor and failed to score a single basket in the final 4 minutes and 39 seconds. The shots that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson couldn't seem to miss during the regular season, suddenly stopped falling when it mattered most on the biggest of stages and under the brightest of lights as the two combined to shoot a woeful 12-for-36 from the field.
Following their inability to closeout the series at home in Game 5, the pressure on Golden State only mounted more and more after each failure, meanwhile the confidence inside the Cavs locker room only grew. But with a Game 7 to be played on their home court, even the Warriors never worried too much and they didn't have much reason to, seeing as no home team had failed to reign victorious in a game 7 since 1978 and the Warriors hadn't lost three straight games all year. But with a chance to deliver the state of Ohio its first ever NBA Championship, something he's dreamed of doing since entering the league in 2003, LeBron made it his sole mission to deliver on that promise, playing like a man possessed as Golden State's first 3-game losing-streak of the season came at the worst time possible. His teammates also came through in the most trying of times, whether it was Kevin Love's lock down defense on Steph Curry in crunch time with just seconds remaining or Kyrie Irving's clutch three-pointer in the final minute that broke a tie and gave Cleveland the lead for good. It all amounted to a 93-89 victory that resulted in the Cavs becoming only the fourth team to ever win it all in the same year in which they replaced their head coach mid-season when assistant coach Tyronn Lue took over for the departed David Blatt who was fired in late January.

Had it been the Warriors who won in the franchise's first ever Finals game 7, it might have been Draymond Green who we're talking about and praising here. While I could spend plenty of time criticizing the league's questionable decision to suspend Green for his tussle with James and use that as the turning point as to why Golden State collapsed or Cleveland came alive, I'm not going to discredit the Cavs for pulling off their remarkable comeback. After missing Game 5 due to a suspension for having committed four flagrant fouls during the playoffs, Green came out firing on all cylinders in game 7, lighting up the first half and knocking down 11 of 15 shots, including 6 of 8 from behind the arch and finishing an assist shy of a triple-double with a game-high 32-points. However, it wasn't enough as his blazing start fizzled out down the stretch. The loss now begs the question, where do the Warriors go from here? With Harrison Barnes expected to test the free-agent market and likely out the door with a huge payday coming his way, could fellow free-agent Kevin Durant be the answer? Would he even be a good fit in Golden State where there's already two prolific scorers in place? Sure he's shared the same court as Russell Westbrook and James Harden who have evolved into some of the best scorers in the league, but those were both two players he developed alongside since debuting in the league. While those questions are yet to be answered and remain as possibilities at this point, what we do know is that coach Kerr's team can't be any better during the regular season than they were in 2016, nor do they need to be since they won't be chasing a meaningless record this time around and can actually rest down the stretch if need be. They've also proven that they are in fact beatable as evident by what happened in the Finals.
Now that the Warriors have failed to highlight their record-setting regular season with a championship, will their historic run now be remembered in the same light as the New England Patriots' 18-1 run in 2007 when they failed to finish the season perfect and were upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants? Yes or no, one thing is certain -- that they'll no longer be considered the greatest team of all-time, simply because they couldn't capitalize on their home court in a deciding game 7. As for the champs and their leader who continues to cement his legacy among the game's all-time greats, the adage of Cleveland being a bunch of losers can now be lifted as their championship drought has finally ended some 56 years later. Also worth noting is that LeBron is officially a free man now that he's delivered on his promise. If he decides he wants to leave the Cavs to pursue other endeavors like playing for the Lakers or Knicks, the city of Cleveland could never hate him or burn his jerseys like they did the first time he left them for the sunny beaches of Miami, simply because he brought the starving city of Cleveland a title. Not that I think it'll happen, but if it did, he's earned the right to do whatever he pleases without the state-wide witch hunt and death threats. Personally, I think he's there to stay and isn't quite finished with how he plans to leave Cleveland's trophy case looking when his career is all said and done.


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Giants Month in Review - May 2016

Entering the month of May in a tie with the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in NL Western division, the San Francisco Giants managed to separate themselves from their division foes by catching fire and winning an MLB-best 21-games in May. With temperatures starting to heat up across the country, so has the Giants pitching staff, led by ace Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And though the Giants finished off the month of May strong, they did struggle early on before leap-frogging their way up the power rankings. 

After salvaging the third and final game of a three-game series against the reigning NL Champion New York Mets to begin the month, the Giants took two of three on the road in Cincinnati, including a Game 1 match-up which featured Giants newcomer Johnny Cueto toeing off against his former ball club. Though he wouldn't get the win and would be touched up for a season-high 6 earned runs in the outing, the Giants reigned victorious, 9-6. Next up, San Francisco would return home for a 4-game set against the Colorado Rockies where they would receive a rude awakening. A week after allowing the Mets to pile on a franchise-record 12 runs in a single inning, Giants pitching would be snake bitten for a second time as the Rockies set a club record by scoring 13 runs in a single inning. Colorado would go on to pummel the Giants, 17-7, tying a record for the most runs scored by an opposing team in the 17-year history of AT&T Park. Ultimately splitting the four-game series against the Rockies, the Toronto Blue Jays were next in line to pay the Giants a visit, taking the first two games before dropping the series finale as the Giants won in walk-off fashion thanks to a bases-loaded walk to Buster Posey in the 13th inning. 
The walk-off win would be the start of an 8-game winning-streak for San Francisco as they pulled off back to back road sweeps against the Arizona Diamondbacks (4-games) and San Diego Padres (3-games), as the Giants completed their first undefeated road trip of 7 games or more since 1913. Also, the 4-game sweep of the D-Backs would be the first by the Giants in Arizona since 2010. In the first two games in San Diego, Bumgarner and Cueto registered back to back complete games with each pitcher allowing only one run. It would mark the first time the Giants have had consecutive complete-game wins by starting pitchers versus the same opponent since August of 1995 (Mark Leiter & Terry Mulholland). Following their successful road trip, the Giants would return home to face off against the Chicago Cubs and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrietta who had not lost an outing in over 20 consecutive starts. And while the Giants were unable to find an answer for Chicago's ace as San Francisco had their 8-game winning streak snapped, they did bounce back by taking the series victory, winning two of three before pulling off another three-game sweep of the Padres. During their 8-game win-streak, the Giants never scored more than 5 runs as the starting rotation carried the load by logging a 1.34 ERA in 60 2/3 innings and limiting opposing hitters to a .189 batting average.

After struggling for much of the season and looking like a ghost of his former self, former ace and workhorse Matt Cain finally began to turn the corner and find his groove after stringing together three straight solid starts as he logged both his first win in nearly a year (6 innings, 1 earned run against the Cubs), ending a dry spell of 8 straight losing decisions, the longest streak by a Giants pitcher in three years, and his first hit in over two years (a 2-run double off of Jon Lester). But just when the Giants began getting steady production and gaining faith in their fifth starter, Cain was forced to hit the 15-day disabled-list after straining his hamstring in the second inning of a road outing against the Rockies which resulted in him being replaced in the rotation by rookie Albert Suarez. The Giants would eventually go on to lose the game before taking the next two in Denver, including a 10-5 victory in the second game of the series in which Buster Posey connected for a pair of 3-run home runs to tie a personal-best 6 RBI. The Giants rallied from a 5-4 deficit in the 8th by scoring six runs on eight hits in the frame, the most hits in a single inning by the Giants since August of 2012 against the Padres. The sizzling offense would continue on into the following day for the Giants as they tallied 8 doubles in the series finale, matching the most two-baggers in a game during the San Francisco era as they went on to win, 8-3.
With the month of May coming to a close, the Giants would make their final trip to Atlanta's Turner Field to take on the Braves who will be playing their home games in a new ballpark located in Cobb County come 2017. After dropping the first of four games by a final of 5-3, the Giants answered with a 4-0 shutout victory in a game started by pitcher Jake Peavy who celebrated his 35th birthday by tossing 7-shutout innings of 1-hit ball before the bullpen did the rest. Peavy and company held the Braves to just one hit for only the fifth time since Turner Field opened in 1997. As for the offense, Peavy also collected a hit and scored on an RBI triple by outfielder Denard Span who tallied three hits in the win and is beginning to heat up, having collected hits in 10 of his last 23 at-bats. The Giants finished the month of May winning 16 of their last 19 games while posting an overall record of 21-8 and are now 12 games over the .500 mark, having already surpassed their season-high of 11 games over .500 a season ago. Bruce Bochy's ball club currently stands 4.5 games above the Dodgers for first place at 33-21 on the year, good enough for the second best record in the National League behind only the Chicago Cubs (35-15) and third overall after the Boston Red Sox (32-20).

Highlighting San Francisco's dominance in May was the efforts by the Giants pitching staff led by Bumgarner who went 4-0 with an ERA of 1.05. But it would be Cueto who amassed an ERA of 2.08 in May and was awarded NL Player of the Week honors for the second time of his career and his first since August of 2014 after allowing only 1 earned run and 8 hits in his 15 innings of work against the Padres and Rockies. With only two complete games in all of last season, Cueto has already surpassed that total with three this year. His dominance against division foes has been exceptionally well as his 2.35 career ERA against Colorado is the lowest among active pitchers with at least 10 starts against the Rockies. And then there's the three straight complete games he's tossed against the Padres this season, a feat that hasn't been done in a single-season since Felix Hernandez did it against New York Yankees in 2009. Samardzija also finished with a strong month of May despite a hiccup in his last outing in Atlanta, compiling an ERA of 2.08 in six May outings. Cain and Peavy didn't share the same kind of dominance as their peers, but did pitch to the tone of a much better May than April as they both saw their ERA's nearly cut in half. 
With the Giants kicking off the month of June by finishing the second half of their 10-game road trip with two more games in Atlanta before a 3-game set in St. Louis, the team will enjoy a day off before returning home to host the Boston Red Sox for a pair of games before welcoming the Dodgers and Brewers for three games each. The Rays, Pirates, Phillies and Athletics will round out the remaining list of opponents for Giants as they look to continue their winning ways on into June. GO GIANTS!


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, May 2, 2016

San Francisco 49ers 2016 Draft Recap

"With the seventh pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select... DeForest Buckner, defensive-end, Oregon." Those were the words of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when it came time for the 49ers to announce their first pick in last week's Draft. In need of a player that can apply pressure on the defensive side of the ball, San Francisco addressed the need with the 6-foot, 7-inch defensive-end that was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. Drawing comparisons to 2-time Pro Bowl DE Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, the 291-pound Buckner tallied 18 career sacks in his collegiate career with the Oregon Ducks and will now be reunited in San Francisco with his good friend Arik Armstead who the 49ers selected out of Oregon in the first round of last year's Draft and coach Chip Kelly who recruited him out of college to play for the Ducks. As if the familiar faces weren't enough to make him fit right at home, he also fits the Niners' system as a five-technique player.
Adding a player with the strength and measurables like that of Buckner figures to improve a 49ers defensive attack that ranked 29th a season ago. Looking to fill the void left by the tandem of Justin Smith who retired before last season and Aldon Smith who the Niners cut ties with after numerous off the field incidents, GM Trent Baalke is hoping the duo of Armstead and Buckner can evolve into an even younger version of the tag-team simply nicknamed, the "Smith brothers." One of the bigger surprises on day 1 of the Draft would come at pick 28 when Trent Baalke and company made a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, trading back into the first round and acquiring the 28th overall pick which the Niners would use to select Stanford Guard Joshua Garnett. San Francisco would also acquire the 249th overall pick in the trade, while dealing their 37th, 105th and 187th overall picks to K.C. With offensive-line being one of if not the biggest areas of concern for San Francisco heading into next season, they went out and grabbed the best guard in the class according to some analysts who also labeled him the best interior run-blocker, with 2015 first-team all Pac-12 and 2015 first-team AP All-American honors to show for it.
The next two picks on the 49ers board would be used to take a pair of cornerbacks as San Francisco ranked 27th in pass defense a season ago. With no picks in the second round following the trade with the Chiefs, the Niners had to wait until round number three to hear their name called again as they used the 68th overall pick to take Will Redmond, CB out of Mississippi State who could've gone as early as a late first-rounder had it not been for a torn ACL he suffered in practice. He would be the first of three corners taken by the Niners with Rashard Robinson of LSU (4th round, 133rd overall) and Prince Charles Iworah of Western Kentucky (7th round, 249th overall) being the others. Robinson, who's been touted as being one of the best press corners in the draft, shined in the little playing time he received during his career at LSU due to a suspension. Without those off the field issues, scouts say he could've gone in the first two rounds. Instead, the Niners snagged him in round 4, 133rd overall as a great value pick. Another pick that was praised by NFL analysts for the value was that of Appalachian State defensive-end Ronald Blair who was named 2015 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and was made a Niner with a 5th round pick, 142nd overall. ESPN had him rated on their top 100 list and as a potential third-rounder.
With QB protection being a major problem for the 49ers a season ago, Kelly and Baalke took a pair of offensive-tackles in the 5th round and were criticized by fans on social media for not addressing the need much earlier, nabbing Georgia Bulldog John Theus (145th overall) and Fahn Cooper out of Ole Miss (174th overall). Theus, who was named first-team all-conference, started three of his four years at Georgia including his freshman year as the starting right tackle which is quite the feat given he comes from an SEC school and has played against some of the toughest talent the collegiate level has to offer. With the pair of picks to join Garnett, the 49ers selected three offensive linemen in the same draft for the first time since 1998. Three of San Francisco's final four picks would be used to draft a quarterback, running back and receiver, all of which taken in the 6th round. First on the list would be Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel who was taken 207th overall. A former top-rated QB coming out of high school, Driskel transferred to Lou Tech after his successful stint with the Florida Gators was cut short after suffering a broken leg and later benched. The athletic QB with dual threat ability isn't expected to compete for a starting job anytime soon, but if anybody could turn him into a serviceable signal caller for the future, it's Chip Kelly. For what it's worth, Driskel recorded the fastest time in the 40-yard dash among QB's, clocking in at 4.56 seconds.
Kelvin Taylor, son of former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, would be next on the list. 6th round pick, selected 211th overall, Taylor was a former teammate of Driskel's at the University of Florida where he starred as the Gators' go-to back his junior year in 2015, rushing for 13 touchdowns and over a thousand yards while never fumbling in his 486 carries and 510 touches. With Carlos Hyde expected to bounce back this season from an injury-plagued 2015, Taylor could be Hyde's backup come Week 1 as a nice change of pace speedster to compliment the much tougher running style of Hyde. And last is wide-receiver Aaron Burbridge, selected 213th overall out of Michigan State. Named Big Ten Receiver of the Year in 2015 as well as first-team all-conference for the Spartans, Burbridge had himself a breakout season his senior year and served as Spartans QB Connor Cook's go-to target, leading the Big Ten in both catches (85) and receiving yards (1,258). With Anquan Boldin now a free-agent, Burbridge might be the one called upon to fill in for Boldin assuming the team has moved on from their top receiver of the past three seasons.
Something else this draft tells us is that coach Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke aren't exactly ready to throw in the towel on quarterback Colin Kaepernick just yet considering they didn't seem to be in a rush to draft a quarterback in the earlier rounds like many had predicted. Instead, they seem just fine with their current quarterback situation which is expected to be fought for between Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. While there's still speculation that he could be released before the start of season, I'll put my money on him still being on the team come kickoff. Trade talks were more than talked about between the 49ers and Denver Broncos, but Kaepernick's unwillingness to take a paycut ultimately deterred Broncos vice-president John Elway and the reigning Super Bowl champions from finalizing a move as they traded up in the draft to take their quarterback of the future in Memphis' Paxton Miller instead. As for the position of need that the 49ers didn't address in the draft, Baalke elected not to select a single linebacker. We'll see if that decision comes back to haunt him.
Like every year, it's always fun keeping an eye on those players drafted heading into their first year, especially those taken in the later rounds as their journey to NFL begins or if they make the team at all. It's also a time for those struggling teams (like the 49ers) to help dig themselves out of the hole and build to help better their future. There's no denying that this was the most significant draft in years for San Francisco as the franchise is still looking to recover from a handful of unexpected retirements and an ugly fallout with one of the game's premier coaches. Now in a new regime under head coach Chip Kelly, the 49ers are in need of a spark to help the franchise's rise back to prominence and regain its rich winning history.


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