Monday High 5: Filling Our Suns Void

Matthew JohnsonAugust 17, 2020
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We live in world where going 8-0 in the NBA bubble still doesn’t get you into the playoffs. That’s 2020 for ya! In a year where nothing makes sense, the Phoenix Suns were sent home after winning all of their games during the NBA restart in Orlando, and Valley sports fans lost their must-see TV event of the summer. However, the Diamondbacks and Coyotes are working hard to step up and fill in the void – and that tops our look at the biggest takeaways from the weekend in sports.

1. Keep the kachina.

The Arizona Coyotes are a perfect three for three this postseason when wearing the throwbacks. As the old saying goes: “When you look good, you play good” and this team is playing good enough to win when they slip on the classic Kachina sweater and hit the ice. It also helps when goalie Darcy Kuemper stops 49 shots in one game, as he did in a Game 3 win.

Big takeaway: We’ll see if the Kachina luck holds up again Monday afternoon in Game 4 of their series against the Colorado Avalanche. The Coyotes trail in the series 2-1.

2. Eduardo Escobar’s bat comes alive.

The Arizona Diamondbacks needed to reverse a lot of unfavorable trends to climb out of an early hole they dug for themselves in the first 11 games of the season. They started the season 3-8 and have since gone 8-3, largely thanks to the offense figuring out how to hit again. David Peralta is scorching at the plate right now, hitting .321 for the season. Nick Ahmed is red hot with a .440 average in his last seven games. Add that to Kole Calhoun’s home run prowess (four last week) and consistent production from Starling Marte and Ketel Marte, and the D-Backs are suddenly one of the top run scoring teams in the National League (105 runs is fifth best in NL as on Monday).
Eduardo Escobar was the notable exception to the offensive windfall – at least until Sunday, when he delivered a clutch three-run homer in the bottom of the 8th inning to lift the Diamondbacks to a comeback win and series sweep over the San Diego Padres.

Big takeaway: if Escobar’s bat can get hot, the D-Backs will be very hard to beat the rest of the season.

3. Robbie Ray’s stat line is mind-boggling.

The D-Backs fire-balling left-hander continues to baffle most people with his inconsistency. On Sunday, Ray (8.59 ERA) was taken out of the game after walking the lead-off hitter in the 6th inning. He had not allowed a hit but had walked six and struck out four over five innings pitched. Of the 95 pitches he threw, Ray managed to throw 50 balls and 45 strikes.

Big takeaway: Although it was Ray’s best start of 2020 and he became the second fastest left-handed pitcher to reach 1,000 career strikeouts, he was pulled from a no-hitter essentially because he couldn’t throw strikes. That seems impossible to do, but here we are.

4. Did Pac-12 pull the plug too early?

As of Monday, the ACC, SEC and Big-12 conferences still have not made a decision on whether to play fall sports this season. The Pac-12 and Big-10 each pulled the plug late last week, postponing the college football season (among other sports) until at least January 1. However, reports over the weekend suggest several student-athletes and their parents are pushing back against the Big-10 schools, urging them to reconsider. Ohio State quarterback and likely Heisman trophy candidate Justin Fields started an online petition to show his support to reverse the decision and it quickly earned more than 200,000 signatures.

Big takeaway: While it remains to be seen whether Fields can convince powerful school presidents to reinstate his college football season, you have to wonder why the Big-10 and Pac-12 pulled the plug in early August. The opening week of games had already been pushed back to late September (cue the “Maggie May” music). If the other three Power Five conferences are playing games on Saturday afternoon in the fall, the sideline view from Pac-12 territory is going to hurt.

5. NFL training camps get appropriate attention.

Have you heard anything about NFL training camps this year? There are several reasons why it’s quiet right now. First, we have lots of sports to entertain us with the NBA playoffs, the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs and an MLB season that’s a sprint to the postseason. NFL training camps are often a celebratory time that helps fill a sports void that exists in August during normal years. In 2020, we don’t need it to pass the time. Second, it’s football practice and as much as I love football, it’s pretty boring. As Allen Iverson famously lamented “We in here talking about practice!” Not many Cardinals fans have walked away from State Farm Stadium in August with long-lasting memories of watching a two hour practice. Third and final, reporters don’t have the same access this summer. For years, a TV photographer could park him or herself inside the locker room and chat up anyone who came by. Great moments, stories and relationships were born during these times. That simply doesn’t exist this year. Media is limited to Zoom calls to get their sound bites.

Big takeaway: Fans won’t be able to follow the progression of new players through four preseason games. Instead, we’ll all get to know this team on the field when it kicks off for real on September 13 against the 49ers.

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