Your eyes are not deceiving you.
For the first time since late June a driver not named Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin sits atop the latest NASCAR power rankings.
Martin Truex Jr. has claimed the top spot for the first time this season following his second-place finish in Saturday’s playoff race at Richmond.
More: Cup standings after Richmond
Truex rides the No. 1 spot in the NASCAR power rankings into the first elimination race of the playoffs this weekend at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).
Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:
1. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 3): Truex hasn’t won a race since June at Martinsville, but his consistency is paying off. He’s finished in the top three in eight of the last 10 races.
2. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): After stealing a win at Darlington, Harvick took home a seventh-place finish in Richmond.
3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 6): Earned his second straight third-place finish. Has placed in the top 10 in 10 of the last 13 races.
3. (tie) Austin Dillon (Last week No. 9): Possibly had the best car Saturday night and earned consecutive top fives for the first time in his Cup career. How big of a playoff spoiler can Dillon be?
5. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 8): Dominated to win his fourth Cup race of the year. This is his first season with more than three victories since 2016 (four wins).
6. Denny Hamlin (Last week No. 2): A speeding penalty helped relegate him to 12th-place finish in Richmond for his third result of 12th or worse in the last four races. Hamlin still easily advanced to the second round of the playoffs via points.
7. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 4): Finished fifth after a disappointing result at Darlington. Has four top fives in the last six races.
8. William Byron (Last week No. 5): After an impressive run of three consecutive top fives, Byron struggled in Richmond, finishing 21st.
9. (tie) Alex Bowman (Last week No. 7): After a ninth-place finish at Richmond, Bowman has four consecutive top-10 finishes.
9. (tie) Justin Allgaier (Last week unranked): Has won three of the last six Xfinity races and earned back-to-back victories for the first time in his career.
9. Kyle Busch (last week No. 10): Placed sixth at Richmond after starting from the rear due to failed pre-race inspections. Has two consecutive top 10s.
NASCAR Power Rankings: Martin Truex Jr. takes No. 1 for first time originally appeared on NBCSports.com
Wild Card Round preview and prediction to start 2020 MLB postseason
Last season, the Yankees saw a long-standing streak broken: It was the first decade they hadn’t reached the World Series.
There were two really good chances in the past three seasons for the Yankees to keep that alive, but the Houston Astros had other plans last season and in 2017. Once again, though, the Yankees have the team to compete for their 28th franchise title.
But this is an entirely different format that every MLB team is experiencing in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams will be going into playoff bubbles stationed in California and Texas — if they make it past the Wild Card Round.
For the fifth-seeded Yankees, that means getting through the fourth-seeded Cleveland Indians in a best-of-three series…in Cleveland. New York will not have playoff baseball at any time in October, as the Yankees will be the home team at Progressive Field in Cleveland for Game 2 of the series.
And this is a series that features two teams who have battled recently in the postseason. Back in 2017, the Yankees had to go through five games to beat the Indians in the ALDS before moving on to Houston. This season, they both feature a top ace in the American League, a solid lineup one through nine, and records that are very close (Indians went 35-25 while Yanks finished 33-27).
With Game 1 kicking off the Wild Card Round on Tuesday at 7 p.m., let’s break down the series and give our prediction of how this one will end heading into the ALDS.
Battle of Two Aces in Game 1
Gerrit Cole was pegged to be an AL Cy Young candidate the second he signed his blockbuster deal with the Yankees worth $324 million. He was a proven, bonafide ace that the team desperately needed and was hoping to land when the offseason began.
But with the regular season now over and the stats set in stone, the man that will likely win that award will be on the mound for the home team in Game 1.
Shane Bieber has been lights out for the Indians this season, owning an MLB-leading 1.63 ERA among starters while also leading the league in strikeouts with 122 on the year. The 25-year-old has not only solidified himself as Cleveland’s ace, but should actually be the favorite in this matchup against Cole – something no one would’ve predicted at the start of the season.
Cole hasn’t been as consistent as Bieber this season, having a stretch in late August/early Sept. that saw more runs than normal come across the plate when he was on the mound. He’s also let up 14 homers this season, which is uncharacteristic for the righty.
However, Cole has been dominant heading into this postseason, giving up just two earned runs in his last three starts with 24 total strikeouts and going seven innings in each contest.
In a series that is only three games, Game 1 is crucial to win to get the upper hand. And this will be the pitching matchup to watch across all the matchups for sure to see who can come out victorious and give their team good standing heading into Game 2 on Wednesday.
Offense = Advantage Yankees
The Indians don’t have a lackluster offense. But compared to the Yankees lineup, there’s no comparison.
The likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and more have got the Indians beat in a lot of offensive categories such as:
- – Batting average: .247 vs. .228
- – Home runs: 94 (fifth in MLB) vs. 59
- – RBI: 301 (fourth in MLB) vs. 234
- – On-base percentage: .342 (fourth in MLB) vs. .317
- – OPS: .789 (fifth in MLB) vs. .689
Run differentials, though, have been close this season with the Yankees at +45 compared to the Indians +39. At the end of the day, the Yankees lineup is stacked and arguably the best in the American League. However, after losing six of their last eight games of the season, they will need much more production to get past this Indians squad.
They can certainly do it, especially given their postseason experience over the past few years. Keep an eye on Voit and LeMahieu, too. Voit led the league in homers while LeMahieu made MLB history by collecting the batting title in the AL, making him the first player to ever win that award in both leagues.
Can J.A. Happ come in clutch?
If this series is pushed to a Game 3, Happ would be the likely starter in this win-or-go-home matchup. He doesn’t look like the lefty manager Aaron Boone had to cut out of the rotation during last year’s postseason, owning a 3.47 ERA over 49.1 innings this season.
He also has postseason experience while Zach Plesac, the likely Game 3 starter for the Indians does not. But Plesac does have better numbers this season at 2.28 in the ERA department.
As we mentioned, the Yankees’ offense has the advantage in a do-or-die game, but they would need solid starting pitching despite all hand being on deck for this one. Happ will need to step up, and if he does, he’d silence all the haters in the process.
PREDICTION: Yankees in 3
Game 1 is bound to be a fun pitching matchup to watch, but I’m going to have to take the postseason-experienced Cole over Bieber regardless of what the stats say. It’s a whole different game and Cole has proven to perform in those high-pressure moments while we don’t know what to expect from Bieber just yet. It will be close, but the Yankees offense will come away with the win.
Masahiro Tanaka has not been his consistent self this season despite his ERA being 3.56. His FIP at 4.42 shows the true nature of his regular season. Yes, he’s a different animal when the postseason comes around, and that could very well be the case and the Yankees be done with this series after just two games following a stellar start. But Carlos Carrasco is no slouch either, with postseason experience and a 2.91 ERA to boot this season. He also handled the Yankees well in 2017 during his start in the ALDS.
Game 3, then, will be the Happ-Plesac battle and I think this is where the Yankees’ offense seals the deal. The bullpen advantage with Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman on the back end should provide a good safety blanket as well.
How to watch, team news, odds
Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.
[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]
Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.
[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]
When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.
Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)
Liverpool have center back Joe Gomez back fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson is also not fit to feature. Thiago Alcantara is not in the squad due to an minor injury, while new signing Diogo Jota is on the bench.
🔴 TEAM NEWS 🔴
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 28, 2020
Arsenal have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which is a big boost. Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Sead Kolasinac all drop to the bench as Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and David Luiz start. Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.
Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)
Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.
PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links
Liverpool – Arsenal prediction
Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.
How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time
Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com
Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, team news, odds originally appeared on NBCSports.com
LeBron James first star in decades to face former team in NBA Finals
When LeBron James left the Heat in 2014, he claims someone from Miami told him, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your career.”
Heat president Pat Riley said his plan for Miami “all of a sudden came crashing down.”
Six years later, LeBron and the Heat are in the NBA Finals.
LeBron remains a driving force of championship contention. After Miami, he led the Cavaliers to the 2016 title (proving wrong his doubter with the Heat). Now, he’s flourishing with the Lakers. Even at age 35, LeBron is a superstar who held the allure to recruit a co-star in Anthony Davis. That’s a championship recipe.
The Heat have nearly completely turned over their roster since LeBron left. (Only Udonis Haslem remains.) Riley remained committed to winning immediately throughout this post-LeBron era and hit on the right combination of players for this moment. Miami lured Jimmy Butler, drafted and developed Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, traded for capable veterans Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala and found undrafted gems Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. It’s a remarkable story of team-building.
Now, LeBron and his former team meet on the biggest stage.
This is just the third time an All-Star has faced his former team in the NBA Finals:
After years of coming up short, Wilt Chamberlain and the Warriors grew tired of each. San Francisco traded him to Philadelphia, bottomed out and drafted Rick Barry. Barry and Nate Thurmond – who moved from power forward to his more-natural center with Chamberlain’s exit – lifted the Warriors to the 1967 NBA Finals, where they lost to Chamberlain and the 76ers.
The Celtics were so smitten with a young center from University of San Francisco, they traded star center Ed Macauley to the St. Louis Hawks for the No. 2 pick in the 1956 NBA Draft… Bill Russell. Russell led Boston to more than a decade of dominance, NBA Finals trips in his first two seasons coming against Macauley’s Hawks. The teams split, the Celtics winning in 1957 and St. Louis winning in 1958.
A few other players were All-Stars in another season and still producing near – using that term generously in some cases – that level when facing their former team the NBA Finals:
- Adrian Dantley (Detroit Pistons) vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 1988
- Paul Westphal (Phoenix Suns) vs. Boston Celtics in 1976
- Charlie Scott (Boston Celtics) vs. Phoenix Suns in 1976
- Paul Silas (Boston Celtics) vs. Phoenix Suns in 1976
- Dick Barnett (New York Knicks) vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 1970
- Ed Macauley (St. Louis Hawks) vs. Boston Celtics in 1958
It’s obvious why these situations are rare. When on a team that could be good enough to reach the Finals without him, stars usually stay put. After losing a star, teams usually fall off.
But these are unique circumstances.
A Northeast Ohio native, LeBron wanted to win in Cleveland. Then, he wanted to live in Los Angeles. He still has the talent to dominate and the power to get his teams to mortgage their futures to surround him with immediate talent.
Riley is one of the greatest executives in league history. He created a culture in Miami that helps the Heat get through thick and thin. It’s one of the reasons LeBron joined the organization. Even after he left, the Heat focused on winning quickly and player development – then hit enough right breaks on this run through the bubble.
Make no mistake: Miami is the underdog of this story. LeBron’s continued reign was far more predictable. The Heat have been in precarious situations over the last few years before coming out ahead now.
That’s why Riley was so upset in 2014. He said he even considered going Dan Gilbert until a friend talked him out of it.
In his infamous letter, Gilbert wrote, “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” Of course, the Cavs came up comically short. They were awful while LeBron won two titles in Miami.
And LeBron has already won a ring since leaving the Heat. But Miami has the opportunity for revenge that Gilbert could only dream of.
LeBron has an opportunity, too. In 2016, when the Cavaliers and Heat had a chance to play in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron called it his preferred matchup. That was somewhat about his friendship with Miami star Dwyane Wade, who has since retired. But there are are still plenty of familiar faces in the Heat organization.
You know what they say about familiarity…
LeBron James first star in decades to face former team in NBA Finals originally appeared on NBCSports.com
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