Major League Baseball’s mess, the Los Angeles Clippers, Arsenal and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Everyone needs to be better for baseball to continue
It would be hypocritical to be upset about Miami Marlins players recklessly disregarding protocol during the team’s trip to Atlanta and not be upset that those same players were given the ability to decide to play against the Phillies knowing there were positive tests on the team. While commissioner Rob Manfred is correct that players need to be more careful for the season to survive, he is not in any position to be criticizing anyone. His office should have had procedures in place in the event of an outbreak. He should have stepped in and stopped the Marlins from playing.
It appears baseball is going to push ahead for now, but that means very little for the future of the season. This experiment will end prematurely if both the league and players keep operating the same way. Every single player has to be as cautious as possible. Manfred needs to have a plan for proactively handling the next set of positive tests instead of making decisions on the fly. Both Manfred and the players can only do so much to keep this season going. The chaos of the past couple weeks shows how quickly the whole thing can unravel.
2. The Clippers are far and away the toughest matchup in the NBA
LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have each played two games in Orlando, one against the Los Angeles Clippers and one against someone else. Against the Clippers, they scored a combined 37 points on 37.8% shooting. In the other game, the trio produced 56 points on 46.5% shooting. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the best two perimeter defenders on the planet.
The Clippers didn’t have Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, were still working Patrick Beverley into game shape, turned the ball over 20 times and still had a shot at the buzzer to beat the Lakers. In a league where the top title contenders are built around guys like LeBron, Giannis, Pascal Siakam and Jason Tatum, no one is better prepared to bother and frustrate wings than Doc Rivers’ squad. That’s not to say the Clippers are a lock to win it all, but they are absolutely the one team nobody wants to face.
3. The Pac-12’s football players welcomed everyone to the new world of college athletics
On Aug. 2, the football players from the Pac-12 put forth a list of conditions in a Players’ Tribune article that must be met in order for them to participate in fall camp and games. The conditions were not just about making sure players felt safe practicing and playing during a pandemic. They included everything from scholarship protection for those who opt out this season to a one-time transfer without penalty. Other requests included being able to profit off their name, image and likeness, the creation of a civic-engagement task force and using endowments to protect less profitable sports.
What the players are asking for is no less than a fundamental change in the way college athletics operate. Some of these things are already in motion, but the authors of the piece aren’t playing without all of them happening now. Are the demands realistic and feasible? No, not really. That’s not the point though. The point is that the football players in a Power 5 conference have decided to use their leverage to play on their terms rather than the terms dictated by the people making millions of dollars off their labor. A new era of college athletics is here.
4. Mikel Arteta has Arsenal headed in the right direction
It’s only fitting that in the aftermath of Arsenal’s worst league finish since 1994-95, there is more optimism surrounding the club than any time in recent memory. Despite finishing eighth in the Premier League, the Gunners secured both the club’s first trophy in three seasons and a place in the 2020-21 Europa League with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Aug. 1. In just a few short months, new manager Mikel Arteta has completely changed the outlook at the Emirates.
As important as the triumph at Wembley was, it does not reduce the amount of work that still needs to be done. Arsenal took 33 points from 20 league matches under Arteta’s leadership, a pace which would have kept the Gunners out of the top four this season. There is every reason to believe it will be even more difficult to break into the top four next season with what the aforementioned Chelsea and Manchester United are doing. The first order of business for Arteta is getting captain Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang to sign a new contract. The second is rectifying a mistake-prone central defense. Arsenal isn’t moving forward any time soon without both those things happening. There is real hope though, and that’s where a return to the Champions League starts.
5. The MLS is Back tournament has reached peak MLS status
The beauty of Major League Soccer is the strange, inexplicable, illogical events that occur every season, particularly in the playoffs. Thankfully, the MLS is Back tournament has not been an exception. FC Cincinnati and the Vancouver Whitecaps — the worst two teams in the league last season — advanced to the knockout round. Atlanta United didn’t score a goal in Orlando and then fired their coach. Other high-profile teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders didn’t fare much better.
LAFC was the best team in the tournament until Orlando City sent them home via Nani’s shootout-deciding penalty kick. Orlando have never made the playoffs and won nine games last season. That was their fourth victory in five tries at MLS is Back. Joining Orlando in the semifinals are Minnesota United (zero MLS playoff wins in club history), the Philadelphia Union (one MLS playoff win in club history) and the Portland Timbers, who were lucky to beat Cincinnati in the round of 16. Only in MLS.
The NBA, WNBA, NHL, NWSL and MLS have all successfully set up bubbles now, and it’s hard to imagine things going much better so far. Baseball is on the brink of shutting down just a handful of weeks into its season. If sports leagues can’t figure out how to safely operate outside a bubble, there is a very real chance live sports in the United States are gone again by November. Bubbles work, but they’re only feasible for a limited amount of time in specific situations.
Photo by Bill Selak / Flickr