Monday High 5: Let’s Play Ball!

Matthew JohnsonMarch 29, 2021
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We’ve come to the end of Cactus League play and now it’s time for Major League Baseball to say those magic words “Play Ball!” later this week. Opening Day on the horizon is just one of our five big takeaways from a glorious weekend in sports that springs hope for us. 

Suns play (up and down) to their competition. 

The Phoenix Suns remain in first place in their division by two games in the loss column over the Los Angeles Clippers, despite a bad loss at Orlando last week. At 15-31, the Magic own the second worst record in the Eastern Conference. It was the lone blip on a four-game road trip that included wins over Miami, Toronto and Charlotte. 

Big Takeaway:  The Suns will beat a good team like the Los Angeles Lakers and then lose at Orlando and need overtime to beat Charlotte. It’s a weird year where the Suns have lost to three of the worst teams in the NBA – Detroit, Washington and Minnesota – yet still own the second best record in the West. The good news for the Suns is they won’t have to face those bad teams in the playoffs. 

Cardinals add Malcolm Butler to the secondary. 

The Arizona Cardinals signed veteran safety and former Cincinnati Bengal Shawn Williams late Monday morning. Williams joins a reloaded Cardinals secondary highlighted by last week’s signing of cornerback Malcolm Butler to a one-year deal, filling the hole left by the departure of Patrick Peterson. Butler had a solid 2020 season for Tennessee, compiling four interceptions. By comparison, Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick each had three last year to lead the Cardinals.  

Big Takeaway: Butler returns to play at State Farm Stadium, site of his memorable goal line interception of Seattle’s Russell Wilson to clinch the win in Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots. Let’s hope he has a lot more of those magical moments in store for a Cardinals secondary that is in need of a playmaker.  

D-Backs ready to close out spring training. 

Today marks the end of Cactus League play for the Arizona Diamondbacks as Major League Baseball winds down spring training and prepares for Opening Day on Thursday. For the second year in a row, the D-Backs have named Madison Bumgarner the starting pitcher for the game one of the 162-game season. It all starts on the road at San Diego on April 1. Arizona fans have to wait until April 9 for the team to come back home to Chase Field for the home opener against Cincinnati. 

Big Takeaway: Bumgarner being named the Opening Day starter is only due to the lingering arm problem facing Zac Gallen, the D-Backs best pitcher. Gallen has a hairline fracture in his right forearm and figures to miss some significant time, although the D-Backs have no timeline for his return. 

Pac-12 rolls along in NCAA tournament. 

UCLA, USC and Oregon State have all advanced to the Elite 8 in the men’s NCAA college basketball tournament. The Bruins needed overtime to eliminate SEC champion and No. 2-seeded Alabama, in one of the tournament’s most competitive games so far. The Beavers and Trojans each looked dominant in their respective wins over Loyola-Chicago and Oregon in the round of 16 over the weekend. 

Big takeaway: College basketball in March is all about getting hot at the right time. Oregon State looks unstoppable right now. USC and UCLA each have some of the best players in the country but largely underperformed during the regular season and earned lower seeds because of it. All three are giving West Coast basketball the respect it deserves, especially if they all make the Final Four. 

NFL expected to expand regular season to 17 games.  

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the National Football League is likely to add a 17th game to the schedule this coming season, the first expansion since the league went to 16 games in the 1978 season.  

Big Takeaway: An extra game each year, over time, figures to help make up the revenue losses incurred during the 2020 season due to COVID and a lack of fans at stadiums. But it remains to be seen if players will be up for another game. Can you imagine what the Cardinals would’ve looked like in Game 17 last season, after they played so poorly in games 15 and 16 to finish the season and miss the playoffs? It’s scary to think at how ugly that would’ve been.