Baseball's most surprising team ... the Pirates?

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Baseball's most surprising team ... the Pirates?

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A day before he takes part in the home run derby as part of the All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Andrew McCutchen put on a show for the home fans. McCutchen hit two home runs, Neil Walker homered among his five hits and the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the All-Star break in sole possession of first place following a 13-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. McCutchen hit a pair of two-run homers that immediately followed hits by Walker -- one to open the scoring in the first and another to make it 12-2 in the seventh. "I am not going up to bat to hit home runs," McCutchen said. "I am just trying to put good swings on balls and when I do that, depending on where the pitch is and how my swing is, some balls go out." If they don't go out, they at least drop in for a hit of some sort lately for the red-hot McCutchen, who enters the break on a 21-for-38 (.552) tear. He has multiple hits in six of his past nine games and 23 RBIs in his past 19 games. All of his team-high 18 home runs have come in the past two months -- an NL-high 12 have come with runners on base. The long-woeful Pirates have won six of seven and 10 of 12, and no team in the majors has a better record since May 12 than Pittsburgh's 34-19. "We worked hard to get to where we are, and we've earned our way so far," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. A.J. Burnett pitched effectively into the seventh to win his ninth consecutive decision, and Casey McGehee went 3 for 4 with two RBIs for Pittsburgh. The Pirates (48-37) are 11 games over .500 for the first time since 1992 and are in first place at the break for the first time since 1997. The franchise has endured a North American professional sports record 19 consecutive losing seasons. The Pirates have gone 11-1-1 in their past 13 series and have won seven consecutive series at PNC Park. "Seeing what's going on here, it's fun to be a part of it," said Burnett, acquired in an offseason trade from the New York Yankees. The Giants' Tim Lincecum failed to get out of the fourth inning for the second consecutive start, getting charged with six runs on seven hits. The two-time Cy Young Award winner enters the break with a 6.42 ERA that is worst in the majors among qualifying starters. Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer for San Francisco, which has lost five of six and seven of nine. Burnett (10-2) retired 13 consecutive Giants batters from the first until the sixth. He was lifted after Sandoval hit his eighth homer with Buster Posey aboard in the seventh. Burnett was charged with two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings. Burnett improved to 6-0 at home and became the second Pirates pitcher since 1993 to win 10 games prior to the All-star break. Pittsburgh has won each of his past 12 outings. Burnett's winning streak is a career-best. Walker extended his hitting streak to 12 games -- tying a team season high -- with a homer, double and three singles. It was the first five-hit game for a Pirates player since Walker did it July 20, 2010. Walker is hitting .489 (23-for-47) during his streak. "Days like today can happen," said Walker, "but certainly five hits is something that comes around very rarely." Walker hit his sixth home run with nobody on in the third, and the Pirates chased Lincecum (3-10) with a three-run fourth. Burnett's soft liner through the middle with the bases loaded scored McGehee. It was the pitcher's 10th career RBI and first since Aug. 9, 2005, while with Florida. Burnett was the final batter Lincecum would face -- although runs that scored via a Drew Sutton sacrifice fly and Walker single would be charged to him. Lincecum has allowed 69 earned runs -- most in the majors and three more than his total from all of last season. He has allowed 47 earned runs in 47 innings on the road this season. "You never want to say, Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that," Lincecum said. "But when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what happens, happens." Manager Bruce Bochy said Lincecum will start San Francisco's second game out of the break. He also was emphatic that he has given no thought to removing Lincecum from the rotation. "He's got to put this first half behind him..." Bochy said. "He's got to regroup. We need him. He's got to be determined to turn things around, and have a better second half. "There's not much you can do right now." About the only negative for the Pirates on Sunday was McGehee pulling up lame with a mild left groin strain after swatting a two-run "single" deep into the notch in left-center during the sixth. Pittsburgh entered the day a game up on the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. Only Washington has a better record among NL teams. Notes: The Giants had three errors. ... The Pirates' 29-14 home record is the best in the majors. They have won nine of 11 and 14 of 17 at PNC Park. ... Pittsburgh will be on the road for 16 of its first 22 after the break, beginning with three in Milwaukee Friday-Sunday. Manager Clint Hurdle set the order of his rotation to start the unofficial second half: RHP James McDonald, RHP Kevin Correia, Burnett, RHP Jeff Karstens and LHP Erik Bedard. ... San Francisco hosts Houston for a three-game series coming out of the break beginning Friday. The Giants took two of three from the Astros at home June 12-14.

Tiger Woods' DUI arrest not really a stunning development

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AP

Tiger Woods' DUI arrest not really a stunning development

Tiger Woods’ DUI has led to an awful lot of hand-wringing by people who either enjoy his slow but steady fall from grace, or want it to be a sudden plummet from grace.

The first group – well, schadenfreude is very marketable stuff these days, because so many of us choose personal misery and the right to distribute it to others on a moment’s notice.

The second group is just wrong.

Woods’ iconic years are almost a decade behind him, and his reduction through hyper-celebrity and eventually to run-of-the-mill clickbait has been a slow and overly tortured process. We have clung to his myth far too tenaciously for either his good or ours, and the reaction to his arrest and mug shot are both predictable and tedious.

There is no cautionary tale here. All the longform pieces about his tortured soul have been exhausted, and the amateur psychological studies have just become well-worn paths to the same conclusion – namely, that he was a very big deal, and through time and erosion is no longer so.

He has won six times in eight years, and no majors. He has had one burst of exemplary golf since in this decade and the rest of the time has been at best day-to-day, and at worst a perpetual patient. He is not a tragic figure, he is merely someone whose body and soul could not keep up with the rigors he damned of them.

So in that way, today’s arrest isn’t really a stunning development. It is bad, because all DUIs are bad. It is sad, because he had the access to at-a-moment’s-notice drivers above and beyond Lyft-level.

But if we must categorize this, it is mostly a reaffirmation of gravity. He rose mightily, he filled the sky for a time with a spectacular aurora, but he did not achieve earth orbit, except in the prurient new world in which everyone is reflexively famous until we decide otherwise, and now he is in re-entry.

Compared to the height of his fame, it is a massive fall. But it didn’t happen all at once, and this arrest may not even be some gothic tale of rueful self-examination. It might have been just him getting plowed, refusing to acknowledge his impaired state and trying to drive when he clearly should not have done so. It didn’t have to be any more melodramatic from that.

In short, Tiger Woods’ DUI is bad enough, because all DUIs are objectively bad. He deserves no sympathy for a stupid choice, and he shall have none. But it is not a plot point unless you decide in your head that it is, in which case it isn’t his story but yours. You want him to be a disgraceful character or a tragic figure, and as is typically the case, it is probably neither of those two poles.

The answer, of course, is most likely Occam’s Razor – the obvious one. A guy got drunk and reckless. It isn’t more evidence of a tortured soul as told by his most avid followers and his fellow torturers.

Nevertheless, we will try. Even in the current social media age, some stories hold more helium than others only because we choose to pump more into them. Tiger Woods drove drunk, and now we will decide what it means. It’s another story that is more about the reader than the subject.

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

It’s lonely at the top, which is where Markelle Fultz sits on almost every 2017 NBA Draft board. The Brooklyn Nets should be set for the next decade with a big time scoring point guard. Instead, it’s the Boston Celtics who have no choice but to take Fultz with the No. 1 overall selection after a savvy trade that sent veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a stack of picks and players back in 2013.

Fultz can do it all. He’s deadly from the outside, he can take you off the bounce and he has elite passing skills to boot. In a draft packed with star potential, specifically at the point guard position, the freshman from Washington stands out well above the rest.  

It would take a major shake up at the top for Fultz not to have his name called first on draft night, but there are plenty of very talented players sitting on the board behind him. Here is a deeper look at the potential top overall selection.

The Positives:
Fultz has tremendous size, length and athleticism for an NBA point guard. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 195-pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and has a frame built to take on muscle. At just 19-years-old, he is already well defined physically and has plenty of room to grow and get stronger.

A crafty, high-end scorer, Fultz changes speed and direction well and has an advanced Euro-step for a young player. He averaged 23.2 points in 35.7 minutes a night for the Huskies while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three. He can score from all three levels, finish well above the rim and play through contact.

In his lone season in college, Fultz showed that he is not only a legitimate scoring threat, but he is a willing passer and an unselfish teammate. While Lonzo Ball is considered the true pass first point guard of the draft, Fultz had a higher assist rate (35.5 to 31.5) and lower turnover rate (13.4 to 18.2) than the star guard from UCLA.

Fultz rebounds well for his position, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game at Washington. He also has potential as a defender, posting 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, although he is a work in progress on that end of the floor.

Known as a high-character kid and tireless worker off the court, Fultz has the entire package. He can also play the lead or shooting guard spot, which will come in handy if the Celtics decide to pair him with All-Star Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt.

The Negatives:
9-16 is a concern. Great college players should be able to will their team to victory, even if the talent around them is suspect. Washington was certainly worse off without Fultz down the stretch, losing their last six while he sat with a knee injury.

Shot selection and sloppy ball handling was also an issue this season. In Fultz’ defense, he played with a group that lacked overall talent and those issues might eventually disappear when he’s added to a roster that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.  

Fultz is a quality chase down defender, but he fell asleep on plenty of plays or didn’t show a consistent fight on the defensive end. Lack of focus allowed for plenty of back cuts. He also showed an inconsistent effort fighting through screens.

He’s a work in progress on the defensive end, like most young players coming into the league. Most of these issues can easily be coached out of him at the next level.

Projection:
Fultz has an advanced feel and tons of room to expand his game. On the court, he resembles another former Husky in Brandon Roy. Fultz is much further along than Roy was at the same age, but possesses both the ability to score from anywhere on the court, as well as rebound and set up his teammates.  

It’s hard to imagine the Celtics passing on Fultz with the top overall selection, but if they do, teams will scramble trying to move up to select him. He would fit perfectly in the Kings starting backcourt alongside sophomore Buddy Hield, but Sacramento lacks the assets to move from five to one, Fultz’ likely landing spot.