The World Series participants, Liverpool, Ty Lue and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Dodgers and Rays got to the World Series by being themselves
There is nothing surprising about how the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays booked their places in the World Series. L.A. relied on its remarkable depth, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS thanks to a combination of Mookie Betts defensive gems, Corey Seager home runs, clutch hits from Will Smith and two outstanding outings from Walker Buehler. The final two runs of the NLCS were solo home runs from pinch hitter Kiké Hernández and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers’ raw talent won out in the end, sending Dave Roberts’ team to the Fall Classic for the third time in four years.
The Rays, meanwhile, kept doing what they do best: winning low-scoring games. Tampa Bay hit .201 in the ALCS and scored three more runs than the Houston Astros, who hit .260. ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena – who made five plate appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals last postseason before being traded – and his four home runs were the primary reason why. Tampa Bay’s playoff heroes are undervalued players who’ve dramatically improved in their time with the organization, a stark contrast to the Dodgers’ star power. L.A. and Tampa Bay played to their strengths and didn’t panic when adversity hit, leading to the first meeting between No. 1 seeds in the World Series since 2013.
2. Liverpool’s season will be largely defined by the next five weeks
The bizarre beginning to the Premier League season vastly reduced the significance of Liverpool’s 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa. One disastrous performance isn’t a big deal because no one is going to challenge the points record this season. What happened in the Merseyside Derby, though, changes the complexion of the Reds’ campaign. Allowing Everton to equalize twice and dropping points was disappointing on its own. Jordan Henderson’s controversially disallowed goal further compounded the frustration.
Losing Virgil van Dijk to a long-term ACL injury makes all of that insignificant though. The Reds are now without the best defender in the world and arguably the best goalkeeper in the world for an extended period of time. They face Ajax, Sheffield United, Midtjylland, West Ham, Atalanta, Manchester City, Leicester City and Atalanta again between now and Nov. 25. Poor results in any of the first four games significantly damage Liverpool’s chances of getting to the knockout stage of the Champions League and repeating as Premier League champions. The last four games are against four teams capable of ripping a shaky defense apart. Where Jürgen Klopp’s team stands after those eight contests will go a long way toward determining how the rest of the season will play out.
3. Project Big Picture was ultimately a good thing
The drastic reforms to the structure of the English soccer system proposed by Manchester United and Liverpool — known as Project Big Picture — were little more than a self-serving power grab. Giving the Big Six clubs control over the Premier League would have paved the way for a potential European super league and less parody within England’s top flight. The other 14 Premier League teams saw Project Big Picture for what it was and killed it within a matter of days.
While the changes would have done more harm than good and the plan never had a chance of getting approved, it started a desperately needed dialogue. Teams in the lower leagues need an influx of cash to survive the pandemic and they need it soon. Redistributing the Premier League’s money to disincentivize reckless spending by Championship clubs in an effort to gain promotion is an excellent idea too. None of it is worth removing 55% of the league from the decision-making process though. That being said, nobody had come up with any kind of solution until Project Big Picture was presented. It can now serve as a baseline for discussions among all 20 teams, which is what should have been happening all along.
4. Ty Lue is precisely what the Clippers are looking for
The Los Angeles Clippers didn’t have the luxury of bringing in the coach they felt was the best long-term fit for the franchise. With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George able to enter free agency after this upcoming season, the Clippers had to hire someone who can solve their problems immediately. L.A. simply cannot afford another disappointing season plagued by chemistry issues leading to the exit of Leonard and George, leaving the Clippers with nothing to show for the immense price they paid to land them.
Enter Ty Lue, the man who got LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to work well enough together after taking over for David Blatt midway through the season. The man who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals each of the three postseasons he was in charge. There might not be another coach in the world more comfortable stepping into a pressure-packed situation like the one in L.A. than Lue. The fact he already has an established relationship with Leonard and George is an added bonus. If anyone is going to get the most out of this team, it will be Lue.
5. Mac Jones is playing at a remarkably high level
Tua Tagovailoa gave Nick Saban the first NFL-level quarterback of his tenure at Alabama and the numbers the Crimson Tide put up under Tagovailoa are evidence of that fact. His career passer rating of 199.4 is the best in NCAA history. Four games in, Mac Jones has been even better. His 220.1 passer rating is the highest in the history of college football since data became available in 1956 for anyone attempting at least 14 passes per game. In four games against SEC opponents, Jones is averaging 379.5 yards and has 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Alabama’s 41-24 victory over Georgia marked the third straight game the junior threw for over 415 yards and the second time in three games he tossed four touchdown passes. Jones is completing 78.3% of his throws while the Crimson Tide are fifth in the country in yards per game and lead the nation in third down conversion percentage at 61.9. That stat more than any other indicates Jones is much more than a game manager. Average quarterbacks aren’t that efficient on third down. To summarize, Alabama isn’t missing Tagovailoa as much as it thought it would.
Billy Beane’s time as an executive with the Oakland Athletics should be defined by two things: building three completely different iterations of A’s teams that made the playoffs three straight years and creating an approach to talent evaluation other teams used to win World Series. He is hands-down the top baseball executive of the last 25 years. His philosophy worked even if his team never won a championship.