For Leyland, the hard part is over


For Leyland, the hard part is over

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hours before the scheduled start time of World Series Game 1, Tigers manager Jim Leyland took care of what he described as his most difficult task.

"I think the hardest part is meeting with the media," Leyland said. "I don't mean that disrespectfully. It takes a lot of time; you're answering a lot of questions."

The fact the Tigers' manager is more concerned about talking to a bunch of scribes than watching his team take the field after a routine-ruining five days off might be attributed to the fact he has the best pitcher in baseball on the mound, reigning American League Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander.

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Verlander has been virtually un-hittable in the postseason. He's only allowed two earned runs in 24 13 innings and has won all three of his starts. If that's not reason enough for confidence, all Leyland has to do is look toward his corner infielders. Miguel Cabrera won MLB's first Triple Crown since 1967, and Prince Fielder has eclipsed 30 homers and 100 RBI in five of his last six seasons.

Knowing you have those guys on your side must make facing the media feel daunting in comparison to managing the actual game.

"We're blessed," Leyland admitted. "We have three superstars on our team."

Two of those three Leyland mentioned look more like WWE Superstars than baseball players. Cabrera is listed at 6'4" and 240 pounds, and Fielder is 5'11" and weighs in at 275 pounds. Call them the "Natural Disasters," because they resemble Earthquake and Typhoon when in the batters box and the on-deck circle.

Cabrera and Fielder, have mastered hitting almost as well as they've perfected the art of the celebratory handshake. The Giants will have to hope they don't give them a reason to show off their elaborate succession of hand slaps that precede a strange sprinkling motion before ending in a hug. Leyland says he hasn't quite figured out what his two sluggers are doing with it.

"They say I'm old school, I'm really not," he said. "I don't get into that whether it's our team or the other team. I kind of don't really look to be honest with you."

With all the attention payed the three superstars, as Leyland called them, it's the supporting cast that's getting it done. Tiger's DH Delmon Young is leading the team with eight postseason RBI. The way he's swinging it right now the Tigers can't afford to take him out of the lineup and that could hurt them. With Games One and Two being played at AT&T Park under NL rules, Young will have to play defense.

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Another weakness for Detroit could be their bullpen. Closer Jose Valverde has been demoted after allowing seven runs in his three postseason appearances. Leyland broke the news to him the only way he knows how.

"Honesty is the best policy," he said. "Tell it like it is."

Leyland will play the match-ups as he navigates late inning situations. Two of the first three spots in the Giants lineup feature switch hitters, but Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence all bat right-handed. The five through eight spots in the Giants' lineup bat left-handed. That could make Leyland's decisions awfully easy.

Assuming Verlander allows a reliever to take the mound.

Durant: Scoring with Warriors 'not much of a grind' compared to Thunder years

Durant: Scoring with Warriors 'not much of a grind' compared to Thunder years

Over 62 regular season games this season, Kevin Durant averaged 25.1 points while shooting just under 54 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from deep.

In 72 games with the Thunder in 2015-16, Durant averaged 28.2 points per game and shot 50.5 percent from the field and just under 39 percent from 3-point territory.

Durant recently sat down with The Vertical's Michael Lee, who asked him the following question:

Lee: "I know we talked earlier and you said this move wasn’t about a ring chase, it was more about how you want to play basketball for your career. How do you feel it has played out for your game, in terms of maybe shots coming easier? Because it seems like you’re getting your points, but it’s not as much of a grind. Am I right in saying that?"

Durant: "Uh, yeah. Obviously, when you’ve got a better, when you’ve got a deeper team, you’ve got guys that can handle the ball, you’ve got shooters, you’ve got guys that can finish at the rim, it just opens it up for everybody. I think we just work well together.

"I scored a lot of points before I came here. I did a lot. This is not the first time I shot 50 percent from the field. It’s not the first year I averaged 25 points a game. And I’m not doing it because I’m here with these guys. I’ve done it before.

"It’s just the fact that when I get my shots – and it’s not as much as I got before – but I’m in position to be efficient. I may get in transition a lot more than I did before. I may get it in space more, so I’m allowed to catch and make a decision whether I want to shoot or drive. Simple stuff like that, that’s the difference.

"But I had some great years before I got here. It’s just a different way I’m getting my points now. It’s not much of a grind. But it’s still a challenge."

Last year, 38 percent of Durant's shots came after zero dribbles, 26.9 percent were "open," 9.6 percent were "wide open," his usage rate was 30.5 percent and he averaged 5.1 transition points per game.

This year, 46.1 percent of his shots came after zero dribbles, 27 percent were considered "open," 10.9 percent were "wide open," his usage rate was 27.6 percent and he averaged 6.5 transition points per game.

He was a quick learner.

"We’ve got smart players. My IQ has grown since I’ve gotten to the league and I realize how important all the moving parts are for the team," Durant explained. "It was an adjustment as far as me being a new guy and having a certain way of playing, talking about the team and adding me in there.

"I’m just figuring how to move without the ball, play in space. But for the most part, it wasn’t that difficult as far as the basketball side, it was just the small details that had to get done."

Bills sign two former 49ers

Bills sign two former 49ers

The Buffalo Bills have signed two 49ers free agents within the past two days.

After signing wide receiver Rod Streater on Wednesday, the Bills announced the signing of linebacker Gerald Hodges on Thursday.

The 49ers acquired Hodges in a 2015 trade with the Minnesota Vikings for center Nick Easton and a sixth-round draft pick. Hodges started 12 games last season and ranked second on the team with 92 tackles.

Hodges left the 49ers shorthanded for a late-season game against the Atlanta Falcons when he violated team rules. Then-coach Chip Kelly did not disclose the nature of Hodges infraction. Hodges offered no explanation or apology.

The 49ers entered the game against the high-powered Falcons with just two healthy inside linebackers due to Hodges’ deactivation. Starter Nick Bellore sustained an elbow injury on the third play of the game, and the 49ers were forced to use safeties Antoine Bethea and Vinnie Sunseri, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks at various points of the game.

The 49ers showed no interest in re-signing Hodges as a free agent.

Streater, a five-year NFL veteran, saw action in all 16 games last season after being acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in September. He caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.