Thanks for reading the first edition of Riley’s Ramblings! This column will appear each Friday here on espnau.com and on the ESPN 106.7 app.
Here are a few things on my mind:
Major League Baseball:
The Astros did what they had to do as the road team in the first two games of the World Series- they got a split before coming back to Houston.
The pitching matchup in game one of the 2017 World Series did not disappoint Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Clayton Kershaw was every bit as good as advertised and really only made one bad pitch all game, the solo home run to Alex Bregman. Kershaw is proving to everybody that his playoff woes are way behind him. The Dodgers ace did an incredible job of mixing his pitches keeping hitters off balanced all game long. Specifically, his 12-6 curveball seemed unhittable, especially when he kept it down in the zone. In the end, Kershaw lit up the box score with 11 strikeouts through seven innings of one run ball, even though he looked like he could have gone the whole game.
After Chris Taylor hit a homer off Dallas Keuchel’s first pitch, I thought it might become a long game for him. But Keuchel settled in nicely and gave the Astros six and two thirds innings- unfortunately for him the Dodgers postseason hero struck once again and that was all Kershaw needed to win the game. Justin Turner’s postseason so far has been unbelievable. Turner’s home run in game one had a 96 mph exit velocity and a 37 degree launch angle- that is a hard hit ball. The way that he has gotten extension through the ball, I wouldn’t give him anything to hit for the rest of the series with runners in scoring position. Heck, the way he’s been swinging the bat he’s in scoring position the second he steps into the box.
In game two, Justin Verlander was the Astros’ best bet to get a split in Los Angeles. He didn’t pitch great, but he pitched well enough to keep his team in the game. For the Dodgers, Rich Hill was on a roll. He had given up one run on just three hits and had seven strikeouts through only four innings. Dave Roberts is an excellent manager, but I really questioned this decision to take out Hill after just four innings. As the game played out, Roberts was forced to try to give Kenley Jansan a six out save, and when that didn’t work he had to go through his entire bullpen which could have a major effect on the rest of the series.
One thing about the Astros on Wednesday night is that they did not give up, even against the best closer in baseball Kenley Jansan. Both Jose Altuve, who was just one for eight in the series, and Carlos Correa went deep. The Dodgers did not go down quietly either, as they put together a couple of long balls of their own. In the end, George Springer’s two run home run was too much to come back from and the Astros got the LA split they needed to have a chance. A World Series record eight home runs were hit in game two, which is absolutely unbelievable. Both teams have hot bats, but it will be interesting to see if this home run fest continues in Houston.
Friday night, we will have another good pitching matchup in Houston for game three as Yu Darvish gets the nod for the Dodgers and Lance McCullers goes for the Astros. McCullers is an extremely underrated pitcher with really good stuff and if his offence stays as hot as it was in the late innings in game two, he should be able to give the Astros a series lead. (First pitch 7:00 on ESPN 106.7).
Penn State looked great against Michigan, and Saquan Barkley’s Heisman stock went way up after his catch and a two touchdown night. If you don’t know which catch I’m referring to, here you go:
I was a bit skeptical at the beginning of the season on the Nittany Lions, but James Franklin’s crew looks like they deserve to be the number two team in the nation. We will find out just how legitimate of a contender they are this Saturday night against Ohio State (2:30 kick on FOX).
Speaking of legitimate contenders, Georgia is undoubtedly the second best team in the SEC right now. Out of all of the SEC teams, they have the most impressive win so far. Their 20-19 victory over Notre Dame. After the Fighting Irish’s 49-14 rout of USC on Saturday, they’re just making the Dawgs look even better.
If there was ever any doubts as to who was going to win the SEC East, Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game will most likely end those. Out of the East teams, Florida is the only one that could give the bulldogs a run for their money. Anything can happen in a rivalry game but I see Georgia pulling away in the second half. The Gators defense is going to have a tough time keeping Nick Cubb, Sony Michell, and Jake Fromm in check for too long. (2:30 kick on ESPN 106.7) I know that it is a long way out, but if the SEC Championship ends up being between Alabama and Georgia which it most likely will, it’s going to be one heck of a game (Sorry to any optimistic Auburn, Florida and LSU fans).
In Wednesday’s Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, Auburn was again ranked sixth. Central-Phenix City is a clear number one and Hoover is a clear number two, but after that it gets complicated. Thompson is number three, Hewitt-Trussville is number four, and McGill-Toolen is number five. These guys have been playing great undefeated football, but I feel like the Tigers are stronger. Their only loss is to the number one team in the state by seven points, Jay Walker and Garrett Morris are leading an incredible rushing attack for Auburn, and their defense has been pretty lights out. If I got a vote, I would put Auburn in the fourth spot- maybe even the third.
The Auburn High Tigers also clinched the number two seed after their 27-0 victory over Jeff Davis on Thursday night. Auburn backs Jay Walker and Garrett Morris both had good nights against the Volunteers as Morris had 15 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown while Jay Walker had 15 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns.The biggest Friday night game to keep an eye on will be (3) Thompson at (2) Hoover. The Buccaneers have been a powerhouse in the state for years and have nine state championships, but Thompson is undefeated this year and is looking to knock off Hoover and take the number one seed in 7A region three. Click here to take a quick look at the 7A region standings. Keep in mind that the top four teams from each region will make the 7A playoffs.
Can anyone stop Justin Thomas? Apparently not because he just won again at Nine Bridges on Sunday. Thomas is emerging as yet another young star on the PGA Tour and his game looks unbeatable right now. The Louisville native finished the 2016-17 season third on the PGA Tour in scoring average with 69.359, second on the tour in driving distance, second on the tour in official money with $9,921,560, and also won the FedEx Cup and a major championship. Not a bad season if you ask me. To be able to watch Spieth, Thomas, Fowler, and Day play every weekend is a pleasure for golf fans. Unfortunately Justin went to Alabama but I can’t really argue that decision too much. He won a national championship there…
In case you missed it, former Auburn golfer Blayne Barber was featured on this week’s Inside the PGA Tour on Golf Channel. Barber is a bit of a flying enthusiast, and he got a chance to fly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels near his home town in Pensacola, Florida. Here’s a quick clip:
The Monster Energy Cup Series has moved into the round of eight which makes at least one race a round a must win for each driver. To me the bracket-style playoff is way better than the old points-style playoffs and it puts a lot more emphasis on winning races than just finishing well. The round of eight consists of a red-hot Martin Truex Jr., who just won for the third time in the 2017 playoffs at Kansas Speedway even after pitting with a vibration issue, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott. The fan favorites are definitely Elliott and Johnson, but as hot as Truex has been the odds are in his favor. Like I mentioned earlier, winning is everything if you want a shot at the Monster Energy Cup in Homestead.
This Sunday’s race at Martinsville will be very fun to watch. The short tracks cause a lot of beating and banging and I think we will see a fair share of cautions and pile ups. (2:00 green flag on NBCSN)