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Jastremski: First round flop for drama-filled Nets

On Monday, the Nets chaotic and disappointing 2021-2022 season came to a close with a major thud.

At the beginning of the year, the Nets were title favorites.

There was no possible way the Nets could be a 7 seed and get swept in the first round right?

Believe it.

In fact the Nets are the first preseason title favorite to be swept in the first round ever.

So, the preseason narrative would have suggested that there is no way the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets would be comparable teams.

After all, the Nets took down the Celtics in 5 games in the first round a season ago.

Well, the Nets and Celtics weren’t comparable teams this year.

The Celtics were flat out better.

The Celtics taking down Brooklyn shouldn’t surprise anyone who watched NBA Basketball over the last four months.

The Celtics played as a team, got better as the season went along and looked like a group that had cohesion and unity.

The Nets featured none of those qualities.

It’s tough to have cohesion when the so called “Big 3” of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden is broken up midseason.

It’s tough to have top notch team chemistry when Kyrie Irving missed almost all of your home games because of the vaccine mandate.

Plus the kicker, Ben Simmons the headliner in the midseason Harden blockbuster didn’t find his way into one Nets game this season.

You lay out that adversity plus the injury to sharp shooter Joe Harris and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Nets fell well short of their championship or bust goal.

The reality for the Nets franchise is simple going into this summer, the past three years haven’t been good enough.

If I told a Nets fan after the Durant/Irving signings in the summer of 2020 that their team wouldn’t have seen a title, an NBA Finals appearance or a Conference Final three years later, they wouldn’t have believed me.

The franchise and their two best players Durant and Irving have fallen short of very lofty expectations.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were outplayed by Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart in this series.

How was Brooklyn supposed to have a chance against this dangerous Celtics team when it’s two star players weren’t leading the way.

The Nets window is not fully closed, but it’s closing fast.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are not getting any younger.

Who knows what Ben Simmons will add if anything to the Nets next season?

Can Steve Nash lead the team as a championship caliber coach, for my money the jury is very much still out on that.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can still write a happily ever after ending to this story, but they better start re-writing the script now.

Three years in, Nets fans haven’t gotten enough bang for their buck.

You can listen to my podcast New York, New York every Sunday & Thursday plus my picks on The Ringer Gambling Show every Tuesday & Friday on The Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify & Apple Podcasts. You can also watch me nightly on SNY’s Geico Sportsnight.

Big Trade Deadline

The 2021 Major League Baseball trade deadline was one of the more eventful and entertaining that I can remember in quite a while.
There was a ton of activity and big names were on the move and both local teams were actively involved in the proceedings.
The Yankees drastically changed the entire feel of their lineup by adding two lefty power bats in Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. When I heard the news about both trades, I was far more enthusiastic regarding the Rizzo move.
It’s nothing against Joey Gallo, who will most certainly help the Yankees with his power, on-base prowess and defense, but he strikes out way too much for my liking.
Rizzo fits the Yankees perfectly. He won a World Series with the Cubs, he is one of the toughest hitters to strike out in baseball, and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
This weekend, Rizzo was in the middle of everything for the Yankees in their sweep of the Miami Marlins. He hit two big home runs, a game-tying hit on Sunday, and made play after play in the field.
For months it bothered me to no end that the Yankees lacked enough left-handed hitters. I’m glad they have finally changed that.
Both Rizzo and Gallo should be a part of the team beyond 2021, and will be needed in the short term to help pick up the slack for a pitching staff dealing with all sorts of adversity.
The Yankees will need to be a lot better offensively considering Domingo German was just placed on the Injured List and ace Gerrit Cole recently tested positive for COVID-19.
On the other side of town, the Mets may still be in first place in the NL East, but their recent play over the last few weeks signaled a team in need of a spark. Jacob deGrom is out until September, Francisco Lindor is nowhere to be found, and the team has struggled mightily to score runs.
So like the Yankees, the Mets turned to the Chicago Cubs for help and traded for infielder Javier Baez on Friday afternoon.
Baez plays the game with incredible passion and flair. Those attributes should be a positive for a team in serious need of some energy.
Baez will wow you with his power and flashy defense, but he will also frustrate you with the strikeouts and his decision-making at the plate. Much like Joey Gallo, he is not a perfect player, but he fills a major need for the Mets.
In his debut on Saturday night, Baez wasted no time introducing himself to the Citi Field faithful with a critical two-run homer that sparked a much-needed comeback against the Cincinnati Reds.
The Mets have allowed both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies to get right back in the division race, but they are still a team very much in the driver’s seat.
They will need a lot more big hits from Baez and others if they are going to find their way to the postseason.
The Yankees and the Mets can only hope that both Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez can be as productive as their debuts this past weekend.
We’ll see if the boys from the north side of Chicago can be the difference in getting the boys from Flushing and the Bronx into October.

You can listen to my podcast “New York, New York” on the Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify & Apple Podcasts every Sunday night and Wednesday & Friday mornings.

Two Deadline Approaches

In the days leading up to the July 31st MLB trade deadline, one would have figured the Yankees and Mets would be in the exact same position: buy and win at all costs.
That thought process in the preseason made perfect sense. After all, the Yankees and the Mets were supposed to be two legitimate World Series contenders.
Things have changed since the middle of March.
The Yankees have been the biggest disappointment in baseball. The Red Sox and Rays have surpassed them in the AL East, putting them at the point of no return as far as winning the division is concerned.
However, the second Wild Card puts the Yankees very much in the postseason conversation.
Despite all of their flaws and issues, the Yankees are only two games back in the loss column behind the Oakland A’s for the final postseason spot in the American League.
So how exactly do you handle the trade deadline?
The Yankees are not going to sell off assets considering they are within striking distance of the postseason, but considering their deficit in the AL East is it worth going all in on this 2021 team?
The Yankees should look to add to the roster, but the idea of making an all-in type of move in 2021 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
That said, the Yankees should think about adding to the roster, but with the mindset of trying to add for 2021 and beyond. Long-term moves make sense, short-sighted moves do not.
The Mets find themselves in a much different predicament.
They are in first-place in the NL East and could be a very dangerous postseason team.
It’s not to suggest the Mets should mortgage their future on one specific player, but their front office can think about the idea of making one move to potentially put the team over the top.
Is that player Kris Bryant or Max Scherzer? Uncertain, but if the Mets brass believes that one player can take the team to the next level, that is the move that should be made.
The Mets should be in a far more aggressive position come July 31 in comparison to the Yankees. The results in the standings are the ultimate proof.
This week should be about cautious buying for the Yankees and aggressive buying for the Mets.

You can listen to my podcast “New York, New York” on The Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify and Apple Podcasts every Monday, Wednesday & Friday morning.

Make or Break Time

It’s been well documented in this column and throughout town that the New York Yankees have been baseball’s disappointment in the first half of the 2021 season.
The Yankees issues are well documented.
They are too reliant on right-handed power and lack the athleticism and balance that is needed to field a championship team in 2021.
Despite their obvious flaws and issues, the Yankees have a pulse because of two reasons: a winning West Coast road trip and the fact that Major League Baseball has two Wild Card teams.
The Yankees are 4.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second Wild Card and eight games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
Personally, I don’t see a viable path for the Yankees overcoming the deficit in the division. However, if you want to hold onto that dream, pay close attention over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Yankees will play the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays eleven times before the month of August.
If the Yankees have any prayer of making the division race competitive, they have to play their best baseball of the season starting on Thursday.
The Yankees need a big second half if they’re to simply qualify for the postseason, because in the first half, they’ve were nowhere close to resembling a playoff team.
Think about three of their losses right before the All-Star break. In the soul-crushing losses the Yankees yucked up not one, not two, but three ninth-inning leads, including leads of four and five runs against the Angels and Astros, respectively.
To add insult to injury, the other loss was against the crosstown Mets.
It will be difficult to change the fabric of the Yankees lineup midseason, but it’s time to see if the team that was supposed to slug their way to the American League pennant can actually find a way to do exactly that.
There is no tomorrow, not just for Yankees manager Aaron Boone, but for this Yankee core as we know it. By the end of July, you’ll know as a fan if there will be an August or September worth fighting for.
Put up or shut up time indeed.

You can listen to my podcast “New York, New York” on The Ringer Podcast Network, which can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts every Monday, Wednesday & Friday morning.

Pretty Simple Equation

A little over a week ago, Knicks fans experienced an emotion they haven’t felt in a long, long time in mid-May, unless of course you want to count NBA Draft lotteries.
Knicks fans were re-introduced to the feelings of pain, anguish and heartbreak that sometimes comes with playing postseason basketball in the NBA.
The momentum of the Knicks-Hawks series was dictated in the first game.
Trea Young broke the hearts of Knicks fans and stunned the hostile Madison Square Garden crowd with a game-winning shot with less than a second to play.
Young’s theatrics in embracing the fired up, sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd did not put him in the good graces of Knicks fans, but his statement in the first game of this series was a simple one.
Young’s play basically proclaimed right out of the gate two simple truths in this series: he’s the best player on the floor and there’s not one Knickerbockers player who can stop him.
It’s been painfully obvious watching the first four games of the Knicks-Hawks series that the Atlanta Hawks are the more talented basketball team.
I underestimated the Hawks’ talent going into this series, but the results of the first four games have not been a fluke. Atlanta is more explosive, they are built better for the modern-day NBA, and they clearly have the best player on the floor.
Trea Young has been able to do whatever he has wanted in this series.
He’s gotten to the rack, he’s finished around the basket, he’s set his teammates up and he’s hit a ton of outside shots.
Young has left his mark in this series while Julius Randle, the best player on the Knicks, has not.
Randle’s play has not come close to resembling the excellence he displayed on the court throughout the regular season.
He has been inefficient and looks uncomfortable going up against Atlanta’s defense so far in this series.
The Knicks relied on Julius Randle all season and he delivered an incredible season. But the NBA’s Most Improved Player has not looked like that so far in this series.
So when you ask why the Knicks are one game away from elimination, the answer is pretty simple: Atlanta’s more talented and their best player has outperformed the best player on the other side of the court.
Sadly for Knicks fans, the equation is a lot more complicated when it comes to figuring out a way back in this series.

You can listen to New York, New York every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights on The Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify and Apple. You can also listen to our postgame shows with live callers on the Locker Room App after Game 5 Wednesday and after Game 6 if necessary on Friday.

It’s the Pitching Stupid!

Rewind the calendar about six weeks, and it was full-fledged panic mode in Yankees land.
The Yankees started the season 5-10. They were 2-8 against the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays and actually played worse than their record would indicate.
Over that 15-game stretch, I couldn’t really pinpoint one particular aspect of the game that was working well for the team.
That said, I always expected the Yankees to find their groove at some point in the regular season because a team with that much talent is usually going to perform to the back of the baseball card.
The Yankees have done exactly that. Since the 5-10 stretch, the Yankees have won a whole lot of series.
I’d make the argument that their most impressive series of the year was this past weekend against the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox are one of the most talented teams in baseball and a team the Yankees will likely meet if New York is still playing in October.
The Yankees won two dramatic games and found a way to sweep one of the hottest teams in all of baseball.
The negative vibes of early and mid-April have turned into walk-offs and post-game Gatorade showers.
So, what’s been the biggest difference from the Yankees of April to the Yankees of right now. It’s the pitching stupid!
Since mid-April, the Yankees starting rotation has been among baseball’s best units.
Offense is down across the sport, we all know that, but that does not in any way take away from what the Yankees rotation has been able to do.
Heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the Blue Jays, the Yankees starting rotation has hurled 35 consecutive scoreless innings.
It helps when you have Gerrit Cole, who clearly profiles as baseball’s second best pitcher, but he has had a whole lot of help recently.
Corey Kluber has so far lived up to the task of being a legitimate number-two starter. He has flashed the form we saw from him from 2014-2018 with the Cleveland Indians, and threw the Yankees first no-hitter in 21 years last week against Texas.
In addition to Kluber, Domingo German and Jordan Montgomery have been durable and reliable arms that have exceeded expectations.
The Yankees rotation went into the season with all sorts of questions. Two months into the season, it has provided a whole lot of answers.
It may not be the case for all four starters not named Gerrit Cole, but I do believe the success of the rotation throughout the last six weeks is sustainable.
The Yankees have put together the best rotation they have had in ten years, and help is still on the way. At some point, former ace Luis Severino will make his return to the team from Tommy John surgery.
Who knew that two months into the year, the success of the team would be tied to its pitching staff? That’s baseball Suzyn!

You can listen to my podcast New York, New York every Sunday Night, Tuesday Night & Thursday Night on the Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify and Apple. There will also be bonus episodes on Wednesday & Friday Night after both Knicks playoff games.

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