(Via Sean Garndner/Getty Images)
Ross Chastain is a real easy guy to root for. He picked up racing the same way a lot of fans got into racing: he just thought it looked cool. He has a charming background, being a watermelon farmer before deciding to race full-time. He's been in the National Series for nearly a decade, and he's one of the unluckiest drivers in recent NASCAR history.
The Melon Man, as he's called, would start racing in lower series, such as late models, on dirt, until he got his first call-up to NASCAR in 2011 at the age of 18. He'd be consistently in NASCAR national series ever since, putting up some pretty decent stats while with SS-Green Light Racing in 2012. Yes, in a vacuum only one top 5 and four top 10s in 22 races isn't that good, but at the same time, he was only 19, and the team was so underfunded they forced to start and park during multiple races to save money. He bolted to join Brad Keselowski's Trucks team on a part-time basis in 2013. Although he ran part-time in the Truck Series again in 2014, he set his sights on something bigger: the Xfinity Series.
Chastain would replace Jeffrey Earnhardt for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series 4 car for 2015. His season was alright for his first full-time season in Xfinity, recording four top 10s. He'd attempt to qualify for the Truck Series race at Chicagoland, only to fail to qualify. He'd have a sophomore slump in 2016, but in 2017 Chastain would post two more top 10s as well as his first top 5 in the Xfinity Series. He'd get his first taste of the Cup Series too, running both Dover races and attempting to qualify at Homestead-Miami before withdrawing. This was enough to get him to run more Cup races in the future. He'd run nearly a full-time Cup schedule in 2018. The only races he'd miss on the Cup schedule were the Daytona 500, where his team, Premium Motorsports, didn't field a car for him, and the Toyota/Save-Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, where he was replaced by road course specialist Justin Marks. He'd run full-time in the Xfinity Series as well, where he'd actually have his best season to date in any national series. Eight top 10s, three top 5s, the pole at Darlington, and he'd win his first Xfinity race at the Las Vegas fall race.
He'd ultimately finish 10th in the final Xfinity standings, and he'd parlay this success into a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing's Xfinity Series team. Ganassi has been a consistently solid team in the Cup Series, fielding cars for former Series champ Kurt Busch and former good driver Kyle Larson, and the IndyCar Series, winning four Indianapolis 500's. Ganassi's Xfinity Series team didn't have quite the level of success his other teams had, but it was able to produce a season of 19 top 10s, 12 top 5s, poles at Nashville and Indianapolis Raceway Park and wins at Nashville and Gateway for the then-19 year old Reed Sorenson back in 2005. There was reason to be optimistic for Ross Chastain heading into 2019.
You might be wondering what makes Chastain so unlucky. He signed with a good team, he's coming off the best season of his young Xfinity career, and he's only 26. Sure, he had to start and park in the past, but that's just the unfortunate reality for many teams who don't have the money to compete. It looked like the Melon Man had buckets of untapped potential that would be revealed in 2019. Maybe even an Xfinity Series Championship was in the cards. Well, in late December of 2018, DC Solar, the energy company which would be the primary sponsor for CGR in the Xfinity Series, had their headquarters and the home of their CEO raided by the FBI. It turns out they were running a Ponzi scheme scamming investors to the tune of $800 million. Chip Ganassi would not have the money to field a car in the Xfinity Series, and as such, he shut down the team. He'd return to JD Motorsports in Xfinity, as well as signing deals to go back with Premium Motorsports part-time in Cup and Niece Motorsports in Trucks.
Now, in an attempt to curb Buschwhacking (that is, when regulars in one series run races in others) NASCAR made it so every driver has to declare which series he wants to compete for the Championship in. Chastain, given his success last season, declared for Xfinity Series points. He'd finish 10th at Talladega, but that would be all he could get in Xfinity. This actually would match his best Cup finish, where he placed 10th in the Daytona 500. Comparatively, in the Truck series, he finished no worse than 10th. He even got his first Trucks win at Kansas. It was clear to everyone in the sport that Chastain made a mistake, and it would be a hell of a lot easier for him to win a championship if he declared for Trucks. He could switch to Trucks partway through the season, but that was unprecedented.
So that's exactly what he did.
There was one catch though. Since he declared for Trucks points after his Kansas win, that win wouldn't count towards points for the playoffs, and he'd be stuck at 0. Fortunately, he was only about one race away from the cutoff. He just needed one win and he'd essentially punch his ticket to the postseason. After another top 10 at Texas, he'd do it. Ross Chastain was going to the Truck Series playoffs with his win at Iowa.
Except he didn't.
In an attempt to stop cheating in the sport, NASCAR introduced a new rule: they would take a look at cars after the race, and if they failed inspection, they'd be disqualified. Lo and behold, our buddy Ross Chastain was disqualified. Despite dominating the race, leading the last 141 laps after taking over the lead from Johnny Sauter, NASCAR ruled his truck was too low to the ground, and instead gave the win to Brett Moffitt, becoming the only driver in NASCAR history to win a race without leading a lap. This was the first NASCAR disqualification in nearly six decades. Niece Motorsports is appealing this decision, but it doesn't look good for them.
The Melon Man has been through nearly everything in racing. Start and park, the FBI, an unprecedented series switch, a nearly unprecedented disqualification, and fleeting moments of success. The only thing missing is a championship.
(Via Getty Images)
Mike Trout is far and away the best player in the major leagues today. He could be the greatest player of all time when he's done. He could announce his retirement tomorrow morning and he'd be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Despite that, according to many casual fans, Trout has never been the best player in the league. He's on par with guys like Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle, and passes Hall of Famers in career WAR almost every week, but people always say that some player is better than Trout. The Baseball Writers Association of America agrees, holding every other player to a lower standard and opting to award the American League MVP to, well, any other player. However, every player who's been "better than Trout" and has won an MVP over Trout has become much, much worse since.
2012-13: Miguel Cabrera
This is probably the only player on this list who's had an actual argument to be better than Trout. That's not to say he was better than Trout looking back on it, but at the time, it was understandable to say that this future Hall of Famer was better than this mostly unknown rookie and sophomore, in spite or Trout's rookie season for the ages. Cabrera did win the first Triple Crown in 55 years in 2012, and his 2013 season was statistically even better. Cabrera was named back to back MVP, adding to his already impressive legacy. Since then though? It's been a decline. In 2014, he hit only 25 home runs, the first time since 2006 he failed to hit 30 homers in a season. He'd bounce back in 2015, winning the batting title despite hitting fewer than 20 homers for the first time in more than a decade, but the Detroit Tigers went from AL Central Champs to last in the division. Miggy would return to form the next season, hitting 38 homers and OPSing .956, but once again the Tigers missed the playoffs. Since then, Cabrera has been injured often, and a bad player when healthy. The Tigers have been one of the worst teams in all of baseball as well. Trout would win MVP in 2014, which was (statistically) his worst season. After that though….
2015: Josh Donaldson
Donaldson had a great 2015. Donaldson also won the MVP on 33 RBIs. Both these things can be (and are) true. In 2015, Donaldson led the Blue Jays to their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1993 and they were only two wins away from winning another American League Pennant. They lost to the Royals in six games. Donaldson would put up another All Star campaign in 2016, and the Blue Jays would once again make it to the ALCS. After a solid 2017 season (even if he would miss the All Star Game) where the Jays finished below .500, and then the injuries came on. He was limited to fewer than 200 at bats in 2018, split between the Blue Jays and Indians. With the Indians, Donaldson would struggle to a .258 OPS in their Divisional Series loss against the Astros. With the Braves this season, he's mediocre at best. Trout would win MVP in 2016, and in 2017 he'd get injured and "struggle" to a 4th place MVP finish.
2017: Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Jose Ramirez
Yes, an injured Trout finished 4th in this MVP vote. All three of the players above him have gone downhill since then. Firstly, the 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve. While Altuve would go on to win the World Series with the Astros, he'd do it by only putting up a .670 OPS in those 7 games. His batting average would drop 30 points and his OPS would drop 120 from 2017 to 2018. Also in 2018, he'd fail to lead the league in hits for the first time since 2013. He'd still be named an All Star, but in 2019, he has a hard time even making the cut. He hasn't played since May 10, but even when he played, he wasn't close to the Jose Altuve everyone knows. He's hitting only .243, and he's put up only an .801 OPS. Fortunately for the Astros, this still hasn't stopped them from winning. Next up is Aaron Judge. Judge had one of the best rookie seasons since Trout, and finished just behind Altuve in the vote. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they would lose to the eventual World Champion Astros in the ALCS. Judge did follow up his rookie season with another All Star appearance his sophomore season, but would miss nearly a month and a half over the summer with a wrist injury. Once again, Judge and the Yankees would lose to the World Champs in the playoffs, this time to the Red Sox. In 2019, Judge was solid when he played, OPSing .925, but he hasn't played since April. Finally, Jose Ramirez. Probably the most drastic decline, Ramirez went from historically great to bottom of the major league barrel in less than a calendar year. Ramirez would slash .318/.374/.583 with a .957 OPS, would start at third base for the American League All Star Team, and would finish third in MVP voting. His 2018 would be even better. On August 14 he had .305/.414/.640 slashline, a 1.054 OPS, 36 homers, 27 steals, he was a legitimate threat go 40/40. Then he dropped like a rock. For the remainder of the season, Ramirez would slash only .166/.307/.290 with only a .597 OPS, only 3 homers and 7 steals over the last 40 games as the Indians backed into the postseason. This season, he's barely over the Mendoza line and he can't break a .600 OPS.
2018: Mookie Betts
Betts probably had the best season by any Red Sox position player since Carl Yastrzemski back in 1967. He distracted everyone from Trout's nearly as great season. Betts and the Red Sox would go on to win the World Series, but aside from getting everyone free Taco Bell in the first game of the Fall Classic, he was largely a non-factor throughout the Red Sox playoff run, posting a .639 OPS in the 2018 postseason. That number is inflated slightly thanks to an OPS of .699 in the World Series, but even with that "better" performance included, Betts still did next to nothing at the plate. This season, he's regressed back to what he's always been: a good, but not great, player.
There's no logical explanation for this. But part of the fun of baseball history is because you can be completely illogical with these type of things. How do the Red Sox go 86 years without a World Series? Because they traded Babe Ruth. How do the Cubs go 108 years without a World Series? Because they kicked a goat out of Wrigley. And how do these stars go from shining so bright to being mediocre to bad? Because they beat Mike Trout for an MVP.
On Saturday, the Anaheim Angels designated Cody Allen for assignment. In 25 appearances, Allen has a 6.26 ERA, with 20 walks and 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. While these numbers are bad, do they really constitute a release of a player that is getting paid $8.5 million? I don't think so, but then again, I am not a general manager.
For those unfamiliar with how this process works, the Angels and Allen will have a few days to decide how to move forward with this assignment. The Angels will be able to trade Allen if they find a suitor, release Allen if no one wants him, or send him to the minors if Allen accepts the demotion. In all likelihood, Allen will be released in the coming days and, unsurprisingly, will have multiple suitors.
While Allen has been shaky as of late, he was one of the best closers for years while with the Cleveland Indians. Between 2014 and 2017, Allen had 120 saves, while also amassing 369 strikeouts in 274 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, last season Allen lost all control of his curveball and saw a significant dip in fastball velocity. While Allen, who is only 30, may never return to form as one of the elite closers in baseball, I believe that he could still be a contributing member to a bullpen.
I wonder if there are any teams that could use a low risk, high reward closer as soon as possible?
Thats right, ladies and gentleman, please enter your Boston Red Sox! The Red Sox have been hovering right around .500 for a majority of the season and the bullpen is one of the major reasons. While they have gone on a mini winning streak as of late, they continue to blow games, with Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier proving to be as average as we all expected. The likes of Brandon Workman have been a pleasant surprise, but it is becoming wildly apparent that the Red Sox need another arm to take some stress off of this bullpen.
The best thing about this move is the fact that the Red Sox don't need for it to work out. If Allen returns to form, the Red Sox found their closer who can take them deep into the playoffs and will be paying him essentially nothing. If he doesn't work out, then they can dump him quicker than a high school crush.
Now, this may all change when Nathan Eovaldi returns from injury, as he is inching closer and closer to joining the big league club. The Red Sox could hypothetically use him as a bullpen arm, rather than a starter. If you look at the Red Sox rotation, it has actually been pretty good as of late and they do not really need him. David Price (aside from his lasting outing against Texas) and Chris Sale have returned to form to bring a filthy 1-2 punch to this team.
If the Red Sox can just fix the bullpen, this team will be right back to where it was last season, which is at the top of the entire baseball world.
Last night, while we were all enjoying the beautiful weather with Summer officially hitting New England, one of the biggest trades in recent NBA memory was agreed upon. The New Orleans Pelicans sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks – including the No. 4 overall in the 2019 Draft. This move sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, as many did not believe Davis would be traded this quickly.
The Lakers are now a 7/2 favorite to win the NBA Title, which are the best odds in all of basketball. Now, they do not have a lot of cap space to fill out the rest of their roster, but they now have two of the best players in the NBA. Celtics fans, I hope you're sitting down, but imagine if this team was able to land a Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, or Kawhi Leonard as well? Look out. But I digress. This is why the Lakers are the Lakers, which should infuriate the likes of the Celtics, Bucks, and Raptors. Yes, you have a better team and organization than the Lakers, but you don't have LA.
For the Pelicans, this is actually a fantastic move. The Pelicans now have the #1 and #4 picks in this year's NBA Draft, as well as a bevy of draft picks for the foreseeable future. In addition to that, being able to snag Ingram and Ball, two starting-caliber players, is nothing to laugh at either. The Pelicans were able to play this perfectly, scaring the Lakers into thinking they would trade Davis to the Celtics and getting as much as possible out of them. The Pelicans could be a fringe-playoff team next season and have the assets to push them into the realm of contenders if they play their cards right.
Speaking of the Celtics, this is kind of a mess for them now, right? The Celtics have been putting all of their eggs in Anthony Davis' basket since he entered the league. Now that he has joined their arch rival, the Celtics have to make a corresponding move, right?
Not so fast. In my opinion, the Celtics' future is unclear as it has been since they made the decision to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Let's face it, folks, Kyrie Irving is not coming back to Boston. He is either headed to the Nets, or perhaps even the Lakers, but he does not want to be in Boston. This team has a plethora of draft picks and assets, but, as currently constituted, this team is built around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward. Sure, trading for a player like Clint Capela would most certainly help, but the Celtics need an alpha dog. Signing for a bunch of scrubs and rolling out the same team as last year will prove to be another second round exit for the Celtics, with another year marked in disappointment. They do not have the cap space to sign one of the top tier free agents in this year's class and they do not have the roster room to draft all of the picks that they have.
At this point, the Celtics need to make a trade and it has to be a relatively big one. They need to trade for a superstar that will fit with their team, because Irving simply never did. They need to identify a couple star players that they think could fit and pounce.
I think Danny Ainge truly thought the Celtics would land Davis and they are sitting there with nothing to show for it at the moment. Again, I do not want to dump on what the Celtics have been able to accomplish. They have turned into one of the best organizations in all of basketball with so many assets they realistically do not know what to do with them. But at some point, you need to take that next step into being a championship contender, which the Celtics are currently not. With the Bucks, Raptors, and even the 76ers manning the top of the East, the Celtics are not the powerhouse that everyone thought they would assume when LeBron James headed West.
Now it is time to see if the Celtics fold or build off of this...
Going into this offseason, everyone thought that the tight end position would be the biggest area of need for the New England Patriots. It appeared as if the Patriots heard these concerns loud and clear, signing Benjamin Watson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and signing undrafted free agent Andrew Beck out of Texas. Unfortunately, a few months later, this group looks significantly lighter. Watson will be serving a four-game suspension to start the season, and Seferian-Jenkins was recently released. The Patriots do have Matt LaCosse, who caught 24 passes for 250 yards with the Denver Broncos last season, but I do not think that anyone wants him taking first-team reps at this point, given where the Patriots hope to end up at the end of the season.
So what other options are out there? Could the Patriots trade for a player and fleece the opposition in the process? Well, not so fast.
The Patriots have been engaged in trade talks with the Minnesota Vikings since the rumors of Kyle Rudolph potentially being moved surfaced. Rudolph is in the final year of his deal with the Vikings and will be in for a big pay day once this season concludes. In 2018, Rudolph grabbed 64 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. Now these aren't other-worldly numbers, but it would be a significant upgrade over anything the Patriots have on their roster right now. The only problem? The Vikings are rightfully asking for an arm and a leg for their star tight end. Adam Schefter has reported that the Vikings are looking for either a first round pick or an impact player, which just doesn't make sense for a team like the Patriots to give up, given his contract status.
If you look at the other areas of the Patriots offense, it is pretty clear that tight end is perhaps the only weak link on this team. While many believed that the wide receiving core was going to be mediocre at best to start the year, the Patriots were able to add Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman, and N'Keal Harry to a group that already consisted of Julian Edelman, Braxton Berrios, Phillip Dorsett, and, if he can ever come back, Josh Gordon. At running back, the Patriots have perhaps one of the deepest groups in the entire NFL. In 2019, the Patriots will have the luxury of being able to roll out Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, and rookie Damien Harris. Could they perhaps use one of these running backs to grab a tight end? I guess time (and Bill Belichick) will tell us that.
And, of course, this article would not be complete without mentioning the potential return of one Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski has made it be known that he has no intentions of coming back to football, and at this point I truly believe him. He has taken a beating for his entire career and wants to move on in his life. However, what happens when November and December roll around and the Patriots are cruising to another AFC East title? Could a nice call from Belichick entice Gronkowski to lace them up for a few games for one more Super Bowl run? Now, I think all parties would be interested in that. But for now, let's put this rumor to bed.
At this point in their careers, I have complete trust in Belichick and Tom Brady. If they thought they needed an all-pro tight end in order to win another Super Bowl, they would have gotten one. Because the Patriots are so loaded offensively, perhaps they will be able to get away with rolling out a LaCosse or a Beck at tight end for long stretches in the upcoming season. As long as they can block well and pick up the offense quickly, they should be in a great position to repeat as Super Bowl champions.