Behind the Seams with Blake: 5 Key NFL Contributors of 2020

Greetings readers, this will be my first post on the 2020 NFL season, discussing breakout players and which players have lived up to expectations so far.

Some of the players I will be discussing qualify as big stories because of their impressive contributions to top teams, while others are included in this post not because of their team’s overall success, but because they deserve some recognition for their unexpectedly great performances so far this season.

Tom Brady – QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

This was perhaps the biggest story entering the 2020 season, as everyone wondered how Brady would fare outside of a Patriots uniform and without Bill Belichick as a coach. It was a topic of discussion whether the Patriots’ success over the past 20 years should be attributed to Belichick’s masterful coaching or Brady’s fantastic quarterback play, but that question has been answered pretty clearly throughout this season. Brady has led the admittedly-stacked Bucs to a 7-3 record, while Belichick’s Patriots have a 4-5 record, relying on aging stars left on the team, as well as a, to this point, hit or miss performance by former Carolina Panthers MVP Cam Newton, who took Brady’s place as the Pats quarterback this season. Brady is enjoying his typical strong offensive output with top 5 ranks among QBs in Passing Yards and Passing TDs.

James Robinson – RB Jacksonville Jaguars:

The Jaguars are a 1-8 team heading into Week 11, but that hasn’t stopped a previously unheralded running back from showing off his talents to the league. James Robinson latched on with the Jags in the offseason with very little fanfare as an undrafted free agent, then went on to win the starting RB job for the team out of the 0 game preseason that the players convinced the NFL to have this year because of COVID. We’ll never know just how different things could have turned out had a preseason been played, or if Robinson would’ve even ended up with the starting job in the first place, but Robinson has certainly made the most of his opportunity thus far. In 9 games played for the Jaguars this season, Robinson currently sits 5th in the NFL with 689 rushing yards, along with 5 rushing TDs. He has also been proficient in the receiving game, with 29 receptions and 2 receiving TDs. These numbers, especially the rushing yards, are quite remarkable considering the Jaguars have been on the wrong side of the scoring in most games this season, and teams tend to switch to passing once they are losing in a game. Personally, I’ve become a big fan of Robinson (pictured at the top of this post), as he is a back capable of rushing and receiving, and he is a short and stocky RB, reminding me of CJ Anderson in his prime with my favorite team, the Denver Broncos.

Justin Herbert – QB Los Angeles Chargers:

The Chargers began their year with bridge-QB Tyrod Taylor leading the team, while 2020 top draft pick Herbert watched and “learned how to be an NFL QB” from the sidelines. However, a fluke injury caused Taylor to miss Week 2’s game against the Chiefs, forcing the Chargers to put their young power-armed QB into action as their starter in just the 2nd game of the season. Much to everyone’s surprise though, Herbert did rather well, and he has since run away with the starting job for the Chargers, showing that he can already put up a good fight against even the toughest teams. However, this does not mean that the team actually won the games, as the Chargers have once again found ways to lose games at the very last moment time and time again. This season can likely be crossed off the list for postseason aspirations for the Chargers, but it seems like the franchise has found a worthy successor of longtime QB Philip Rivers, who left for the Colts after the end of last season. I have watched every Chargers game this season, so I have seen a lot of Herbert’s abilities on display, and I have a feeling he has a very bright future ahead of him.

Chase Claypool – WR Pittsburgh Steelers:

The Steelers drafted Claypool in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, and he has lived up to expectations, flashing crazy athleticism and producing boatloads of numbers for the Steelers. He did not begin the season as a starting WR, as the team also has Diontae Johnson and Juju Smith-Schuster as WRs. After the first few weeks, injuries to the WR depth chart allowed Claypool to get more targets from Big Ben Roethlisburger, and in Week 5, Claypool burst onto the scene, catching 7 passes for 110 yards and scoring 3 receiving TDs and another TD rushing. Claypool and the Steelers have dominated this season, as they are currently 9-0, and many think they have a chance at going undefeated this season.

Russell Wilson – QB Seattle Seahawks:

“Danger Russ” has been on fire this season, especially through the first 8 weeks, as he was on pace to finish with a Passing TD total in the neighborhood of Peyton Manning’s single season record 55 in 2013. After a few less than spectacular passing performances in Weeks 9, 10, and in this week’s Thursday Night Football game against the Cardinals, he is no longer on the same blistering pace. He does still have a chance to hit the 50 TD mark though, as he leads the NFL with 30 Passing TDs through 10 games played. Overall, Wilson’s splendid QB play has helped the Seahawks to a 7-3 record in a tough NFC West division, and they will hope to see Wilson return to his Week 1-8 form for the final stretch of the season to secure Seattle a playoff spot.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: SI JaguarReport

Behind the Seams with Blake: 2020 MLB Season Wrap-Up/Breakout Players

Dodgers Capture First World Series Win Since 1988, Controversial Undertones Ensue.

Greetings readers, it truly is a crazy time right now politically, but you can count (pun intended) on me to bring you some insight about the latest baseball news. First and foremost, congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers for securing their first title in over 30 years. Teammates are happy for Kerton Clayshaw (Clayton Kershaw, but an MLB analyst called him that instead by mistake prior to a game in a recent postseason, and no one noticed) who finally got his first World Series win in his magnificent career. Dodgers fans haven’t felt this great since a hobbled Kirk Gibson did the impossible and hit a walk off homer off of Oakland A’s dominant closer Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. Unlike Gibson’s famous fist-pumping celebration, this season’s world series champions likely won’t be remembered for plays they made during the game, but events that occurred after the conclusion of the game.

Unfortunately, this long-awaited win comes with an extra side of controversy. Dodgers 3B Justin Turner left Game 6 due to a positive test for COVID-19, only to come mask-less onto the field and celebrate the win with his teammates after the game. Lucky for Turner, the league announced Friday that he will not face any discipline for his unsafe actions. Nothing like this has happened in recent memory, where something unrelated to the game itself was the biggest topic of discussion in the days following a World Series win. It was only fitting that in a season where it was such an added struggle to keep players healthy, that something would happen in the biggest game of the season and the virus would steal the show instead of the actual plays on the field.

Looking back on the season, some will say that it was less than stellar, but all things considered, we as fans are pretty lucky that we still got to watch a MLB season happen, even if it was just 60 games. We knew we wouldn’t see Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton race for 70 homers, but we still did get to see some great stat lines put up. We learned that it’s possible for players to experience breakout seasons even in less than half the length of a regular baseball season. I will now discuss some of the players who I believe fit into this category.

Breakout Players: 

Cleveland Indians RHP Shane Bieber – Bieber was largely considered the top starting pitcher in all of baseball in 2020, as he dominated batters from day 1 of the season. Bieber had the gaudy strikeout numbers in 2019, but 2020 was when he really stepped into the spotlight and solidified his case as a consensus top 3 pitcher. He was still quite unknown by most baseball fans at the start of 2020, as he was buried behind Corey Kluber in Cleveland’s starting rotation for his first few years in the major leagues, but now it’s safe to say the MLB and fans are aware of his presence at the top of the Indian’s rotation, where he will hope to remain their ace for years to come.

San Diego Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr. – Tatis started his rookie season in 2019 with a bang, as his gifted physical tools were on full display for the Padres for the first half of the season. Unfortunately for the team and himself, he was injured on an awkward over-extension covering 2nd base, and he missed the remainder of the season as the Padres dropped out of contention. This year was a different story, as he lit up the league and led in most offensive categories through the first months of the season and looked like the obvious MVP of the National League. The final month of the regular season wasn’t the same though, as Tatis endured a lengthy slump, and it ended up allowing other top NL players like Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and even his infield buddy Manny Machado to match his level of offensive performance, and those three ultimately pushed Tatis out of the MVP running. Tatis and Padre Faithful will hope that he can carry his fantastic production through the entire season in 2021.

New York Yankees 1B Luke Voit – Voit came to the Yankees in a 2018 trade with the Cardinals in exchange for Relief Pitcher Giovanny Gallegos, a rare example of a trade that has worked out for both teams. Voit had shown his great raw power in prior seasons with the Yankees, but 2020 was a step above his previous production. He led the league with 22 home runs in just 56 games, which is equivalent to around 60 home runs in a full 162 game season. The fact he plays for the Yankees makes the thought of him continuing to produce at that rate in 2021 simply incredible. The Bronx Bombers already have 2 players (Judge and Stanton) capable of hitting 50+ home runs in any full season, so the addition of Voit to the annual 50+ homer threat list makes the Yankees even more of a horrifying offense to face, and should further prove that their 2021 offense will be a must-watch for all home run loving fans in the MLB.

Written by: Blake Koziel @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo Source: Niles West News

Behind the Seams with Blake: 2020 MLB World Series

World Series in full swing as Rays and Dodgers battle to 1-1 tie in series.

Hello again readers! A lot has happened since my last post, so allow me to quickly catch you up! The Rays defeated the Yankees in the deciding game 5 of the ALDS, then went on to defeat the Astros in the ALCS in a full 7 game series to advance to the World Series. On the National League side, the Dodgers defeated the Braves in another 7 game championship series to take the remaining spot for the World Series. Thus set up what is guaranteed to be a great matchup between the two teams with the most regular season wins. 

As of Thursday, 2 games have been played in this 2020 World Series. In this post, I will be recapping each game, while also sharing my own thoughts about things I found most interesting.

Game 1 took place on Tuesday night, and the Dodgers ended up beating the Rays 8 – 3, thanks to some big nights at the plate from outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger. Betts went 2 for 4 with a homer, walk, and 2 stolen bases. I must include that with that first stolen base, Betts completed the absolutely-necessary Steal a Base, Steal a Taco agreement that gives everyone in America a free taco from Taco Bell once someone steals a base in the World Series. Betts had an all around great game, putting on a show both at the plate and playing his usual outstanding defense in right field. Cody Bellinger also had a standout game, breaking the scoreless game with a two-run homer in the 4th inning, (while making sure not to injure his shoulder again in a post-homer celebration like he did in game 7 of the NLCS), and then making a great play in center field to rob Rays OF Austin Meadows of a possible homer in the 9th inning. The Dodgers hoped to bring that momentum into game 2 on Wednesday.

Game 2 ended up being a closer game than game 1, as the Rays beat the Dodgers 6 – 4. The win was very important for the Rays, as they needed to make sure they did not start the series down 0-2. The Dodgers decided to make this a “bullpen game” meaning that they would have several pitchers in the game, with most pitching 1 inning max. This plan ultimately failed, as they used 7 pitchers who gave up 6 earned runs, while Rays’ lefty Blake Snell provided his typical dominance over a short outing, striking out 9 over 4 ⅔ innings before getting removed following a Chris Taylor two-run homer. The biggest performance of this game at the plate belonged to Rays 2nd baseman Brandon Lowe, who finally broke out of his postseason slump, hitting 2 opposite-field shots in the first 5 innings of the game. His power resurgence helped the Rays even the series at 1 game to 1, and the Rays hope that they now have the momentum in the 2020 Fall Pandemic Classic.

This series is sure to come to a fantastic conclusion based on how the first 2 games have gone, and the winner will be decided prior to my next post, so I encourage you all to take some time to relax and watch the remaining games of this World Series, and be sure to stay healthy and keep your head up in these crazy times!

The following is the schedule for games 3 through 7, catch them all on Fox at 5pm PST:

Game 3: Friday. October 23rd

Game 4: Saturday, October 24th

Game 5: Sunday, October 25th

Game 6: Tuesday, October 27th (If Needed)

Game 7: Wednesday, October 28th (If Needed)

Written by: Blake Koziel, @thek0zy1 on Instagram

Photo source: Overtime Heroics

Behind the Seams with Blake: MLB Playoff Scramble

Lightning-fast postseason rolls on as three of four LCS slots are clinched Thursday.

The Division Series round of the playoffs have lived up to our expectations, as there have been many fantastic games and hard-fought battles even through just the 2nd round of the postseason. As promised, the rounds are happening very quickly, due to the much more compacted schedule of the 2020 postseason compared to years past. Three of the four spots for the Championship Series round have already been filled, with the Dodgers, Braves and Astros all securing spots on Thursday. This leaves us with one spot left to be filled, which will go to either the Yankees or the Rays. Next, I will be breaking down each of these remaining playoff teams, along with which players to look out for when watching each game. 

Firstly, the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that it would be an outrage if this team did not make the postseason, as they are absolutely stacked top to bottom. The Dodgers ended up leading the MLB with 43 wins during the regular season, to go along with just 17 losses. Their big splash trade for OF Mookie Betts this offseason certainly paid off, as he is in the National League MVP discussion after posting 16 home runs and 10 stolen bases to go along with a .292 batting average in 55 games during the regular season. Betts and Co. have been hot out of the gates in the postseason, sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers in the best of 3 Wildcard Series, and then sweeping the San Diego Padres in a best of 5 Division Series. (Sheds tear) Like I was saying, they will look to keep the good times rolling in the NLCS against the next team I will be discussing; the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlanta Braves ended the regular season with the 3rd best record in the National League, going 35-25. They have gotten fabulous offensive performances from numerous players this season, such as OF/DH Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL with 18 home runs, 56 RBIs, .338 AVG, and a .636 SLG% in 60 games, and NL MVP candidate 1B Freddie Freeman, who hit 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, .341 AVG, and a .640 SLG% in 60 games. They have also gotten steady contributions from young OF Ronald Acuna and SS Swansby Danson (ahem, Dansby Swanson). They have also received some great pitching from Starting Pitchers Max Fried and Ian Anderson, as well as a rock-solid bullpen. The Braves have begun their postseason very much as strong as the Dodgers have, as they swept the Cincinnati Reds in the Wildcard round, and then in the Division round, they swept the Marlins, who were previously undefeated in a postseason series since the Marlins franchise began in 1993. The NLCS will surely be a great matchup, as both teams are yet to lose a game coming into the series. 

The third team that clinched a Championship Series spot on Thursday was the Houston Astros. This has been a very interesting year for the Astros, as their offseason was spent being the disgrace of MLB, after it was found that they cheated in various ways on the journey to their 2017 World Series victory over the Dodgers. They ended up with substantial fines and draft pick forfeitures and firing many coaches and front office workers as a result of the scandal. They decided to hire respected manager Dusty Baker in order to restore some order to their team. Though many of their superstars of prior years had worse than usual regular season performances, and ace pitcher Justin Verlander missed the rest of the season after just 1 start, they still were able to sneak into a playoff spot. The Astros have had a good postseason so far, with superstars SS Carlos Correa and OF George Springer coming alive on offense for the first 2 rounds, helping them to sweep the Minnesota Twins in the Wildcard Series and beat the division-rival Oakland Athletics 3 games to 1 in the Division Series. In the ALCS, they will take on the winner of the Yankees vs Rays, both of which I will discuss next. 

The New York Yankees started the 60 game season rather sluggish, as they were missing OF Giancarlo Stanton and/or OF Aaron Judge for the majority of the season. Things changed for the better for the Bronx Bombers in the final month of the season, however, as they finally started living up to their nickname, while getting outstanding hitting performances from 1B Luke Voit, who led the MLB with 22 home runs, and 2B DJ Lemahieu, who also led the MLB with a .364 average. The Yankees swept the Cleveland Indians in the Wildcard round, and have been led by OF Giancarlo Stanton thus far, as he has hit 6 home runs through 6 games. They will hope for more power out of his bat in game 5 of the ALDS against the Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the final team I will be discussing, and they finished the 2020 regular season with the 2nd best record in the MLB, at 40-20. They employed their usual relatively low budget team with surprisingly great performances from players 95% of baseball fans have never heard of. The story of their postseason has been OF Randy Arozarena, who has 12 hits and 3 home runs through 6 games in the playoffs as of Thursday night. Arozarena’s magic bat has helped the Rays sweep the Toronto Blue Jays in the Wildcard round, and they will look to get a huge game out of him in the fifth and final game of the ALDS against the Yankees on Friday. 

Personally, I’d like to see a 2020 World Series Matchup of the Tampa Bay Rays against the Atlanta Braves.

Written By: Blake Koziel

Photo Source: CBS Sports