The hottest team in baseball is the...

784044.jpg

The hottest team in baseball is the...

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays are making another run at the playoffs and Evan Longoria is leading the way -- again.The Chicago White Sox are slumping at the worst time.Longoria hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning and Tampa Bay gained ground in the wild-card race with its eighth consecutive victory, handing the White Sox a 3-2 loss on Thursday night that damages Chicago's playoff hopes."The belief has never gone away. We've felt like we had a good chance to be a playoff team from the beginning of the year," Longoria said. "The pressure is not on us playing from behind. It's not ours to lose, it's ours to win. We're behind, but we're close enough."The Rays pulled within two games of Oakland for the second AL wild card, while the White Sox fell two games behind Detroit in the AL Central after their eighth loss in nine games. Tampa Bay and Chicago have six games to go, including three more against each other.The Athletics lost 9-7 to Texas and the Tigers beat Kansas City 5-4 earlier Thursday.The White Sox struggled to hit with runners on base, a recurring theme during their recent slide. They are hitting .123 with runners in scoring position over their last 10 games.They twice had the bases loaded and no outs Thursday night but managed just two runs. And then they failed to get down a bunt and made a major baserunning gaffe when they had the potential go-ahead run on base in the eighth."There ain't nobody to blame. I think everybody in here will take accountability for the way we've played," Chicago starter Jake Peavy said."We had it right there in front of us a lot tonight and throughout the last week and a half, just hadn't been able to capitalize on either side of the ball. We've tried to pitch well enough to give us a chance and just hadn't been able to do that quite enough and obviously offensively it's been frustrating here for the last little bit."Longoria's 14th homer came on the eve of the anniversary of his dramatic shot that beat the Yankees on the final day last season and gave the Rays the AL wild card. Now they're hoping for a repeat performance."It's one game. I hate to bring down the mood, but it doesn't put us ahead," Longoria said."It brings us a little bit closer, but it doesn't guarantee anything. It's a good moment for us, good moment for me, but bottom line is it's just one game."Joel Peralta (2-6) pitched an inning for the win and Fernando Rodney finished for his club-record 46th save in 48 chances. After giving up a two-out single to Kevin Youkilis, Rodney struck out Adam Dunn on a 3-2 pitch to end the game."We have to get back to our DNA, which we're starting to do," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who earned his 600th career win, including a 19-10 interim stint with the Angels in 1999. "Great pitching, not just good defense -- great defense. We have to be great on defense. The fortuitous hit, the clutch hit has to show up for us to get back there."Brett Myers (3-4) gave up Longoria's homer while pitching 1 2-3 innings. The right-hander has allowed a run in each of his last two outings after a run of six consecutive scoreless appearances.The White Sox wasted a handful of opportunities to grab control of the game.A.J. Pierzynski led off the eighth with a single. Pinch-hitter Dewayne Wise then struck out after failing out to get down a bunt and pinch-runner Jordan Danks was ruled out on a double play on Alexei Ramirez's fly ball when he failed to retouch second base on his way back to first. Chicago left 10 on base."We didn't do the little things. Tonight we had an opportunity to get a guy in scoring position and didn't do it," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said."Over the course of the last week or so, we're not doing small things to win games. We have bases loaded, we only get one. Over the course of time that just builds up and it's difficult on your pitching staff to do that over and over again."Paul Konerko hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the fifth, tying it at 2.Luke Scott started the fifth with a drive off Jake Peavy for his 14th homer, giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.Carlos Pena had a sacrifice fly for the Rays in the fourth, but the White Sox tied it in the bottom half when James Shields walked two and gave up a single to Alex Rios to load the bases with no outs. One out later, Shields hit Dayan Viciedo with a pitch to force in a run, then retired the next two batters to avert the big inning.Shields gave up six hits in 6 1-3 innings, throwing 117 pitches. He struck out six and walked four.Peavy went 7 1-3 innings, leaving after walking pinch-hitter Sam Fuld. He gave up four hits, struck out six and walked one.NOTES:The White Sox still have not named a starter for Sunday's series finale to oppose Rays ace David Price. Jeremy Hellickson (9-10) goes for Tampa Bay on Friday against Gavin Floyd (10-11) and Saturday it's Matt Moore (10-11) vs. Chicago's Chris Sale (17- 7). ... Rays C Jose Molina (right quad strain) missed a second straight game. Maddon said "he's doing better," but isn't sure when Molina will be able to return to action. ... Dan Johnson, who homered for Tampa Bay to tie the game with the Yankees on the final day last year, is now a reserve with the White Sox and lined out in the ninth Thursday night. "It's very strange that Danny's over there," Maddon said. "Great guy. He's a big part of Devil RayRay history. ... I know how calm he is in big moments."

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

boston-celtics-brad-stevens-2016-camp.jpg

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

Click here for the gallery. 

BOSTON – As has been customary with the Celtics in recent years, their open practice on Friday night featured a pair of 10-minute scrimmages pitting the “Green” team of starters against the “White” team of reserves.
 
The White team, which apparently has been kicking the Green team’s butt for a good chunk of camp, emerged with a 33-26 win. And the Green team had to rally to win the second scrimmage, 24-18.

Similar to summer league, you can’t read too much into what happened and what didn’t happen on Friday night.
 
That said, there were a number of clear and undeniable positives for the Celtics to take from the game and hopefully build upon them going forward.
 
 
5. Al Horford's leadership established
 
The first player’s voice that the 6,000-plus fans at the TD Garden heard from was Al Horford and don’t think for a minute that was just happenstance.
 
For all the scoring and rebounding and defending that the Celtics will look for Horford to do, it is his ability to lead this team that separates him from most of his NBA brethren.
 
The fact that he’s a four-time All-Star speaks to what he has done in this league as a player. But even more telling is that was the fact that he’s been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA. And during that span of nine years, he has been pivotal in leading Atlanta beyond the first round – a primary goal for him and the Celtics this season – five times.
 
 
4. Celtics defense could be an elite unit this season
 
The Celtics were a top-10 defensive team last season, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be even better now. Boston has a trio of Pit Bull-like defenders on the perimeter in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and All-NBA first team defender Avery Bradley. Throw in Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility at the wing along with a pair of upper echelon rim-protectors in Amir Johnson and Al Horford and the Celtics no longer are a team that can put a couple good defenders on the floor at one time. They actually have the depth now to go with a ‘Big’ all-defensive team or a ‘small ball’ all-defensive team which provides the kind of versatility that should result in Boston being a top-3 defensive team this season.
 
 
3. Marcus Smart poised for breakout season
 
Smart seemed about as comfortable as we’ve seen him on Friday, showcasing his range as a shooter while still being able to get after it defensively. Based on what he has done in terms of improving his game, Smart seems more likely to play off the ball than on it. With his size, strength, athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Boston does indeed have one of those magical-type seasons, Smart is a player that has the potential to help significantly. He understands the Celtics’ system inside and out, and is doing what young players on the rise should do – show growth as a player.
 
 
2. James Young playing best basketball at right time
 
These are some pretty stressful times for James Young, but you wouldn’t know it by the extremely cool demeanor he has exuded. Although it has only been a few short days of training camp, James Young has stepped up his game knowing anything less than his best could result in him being waived and potentially on his way out of the NBA. During the first Green-White scrimmage on Friday night, Danny Ainge said there were five guys essentially fighting for two roster spots. He didn’t single out Young specifically, but it’s no secret that the 21-year-old who is heading into third NBA season is among the players in that group. To Young's credit, he's doing a lot of those little things such as playing solid defense, getting deflections and making "hockey assists" to show he belongs in the NBA and more significantly, should remain a Celtic. 
  
1. Terry Rozier's tremendous strides
 
Rozier was the star of the two scrimmages the Celtics put on in front of about 6,000 people at the TD Garden Friday night. He scored, got assists, rebounded … he did it all. What impressed me the most about him was his defense on Isaiah Thomas. Rozier loves Thomas and respects the hell out of him. But Rozier  has made no secret about wanting to get more playing time this year, and is out to snatch some of the minutes from anyone ahead of him, Thomas included. We saw the tenacious potential Rozier has as an on-the-ball defender, but he seems to have taken that up a notch from his rookie season. And the confidence he has in his shot-making is undeniable. We saw that in summer league and it’s good to see that he brought it with him into training camp. Ditto for his decision-making and leading of the team at the point which are also areas in which he has improved but still needs to continue to get better at on a more consistent basis. There’s no doubt at this point Rozier will play this season and likely get a lion’s share of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner’s departure to Portland.