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Overnight Taters: The Phillies’ undeniable power

At this point, I’m convinced I could buy a Phillies jersey at the team store, sneak onto the field, step up to the batter’s box and hit exactly two home runs. Bryce Harper has had a double-homer game this postseason. Nick Castellanos has done it twice. Kyle Schwarber joined the party last night. 

Schwarber’s dinger disco sparked the Phillies to a 10-0 blowout win and a 2-0 series lead that feels unbreakable. The Rangers will have their turn to impress us again tonight, but it’s hard to pick against the Phillies as World Series favorite at this point. A couple of notes: 

  • Aaron Nola was again spectacular for the Phillies, throwing six scoreless innings. He was inconsistent during Philly’s run through last year’s playoffs; he’s allowed just two runs over 18.2 innings in three playoff starts this year. If he continues the 2023 trend, start sizing the rings.
  • The Phillies bats will likely see Brandon Pfaadt (who posted a 5.72 ERA this year) start for the Diamondbacks in a crucial Game 3 on the road. Can the D-backs get off the mat? 

Tonight, Houston faces a similarly daunting task: A road playoff game, down 2-0, against Max Scherzer. First pitch is at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.

Resolution: Goals can fix anything

We knew this international window would be tougher than the last for USMNT, and the team’s 3-1 loss to Germany over the weekend supported the notion. 

Last night? Not so much. In the Americans’ 4-0 rout of Ghana in Nashville, Gio Reyna notched his first international brace, scoring his second goal of the day in just the 39th minute. And just look at it:

Nifty. So much for all that interpersonal conflict between Reyna and head coach Gregg Berhalter, right? 

Folarin Balogun scored again in his sixth USMNT appearance. Christian Pulisic scored, too. Hard to imagine a better outcome for the Americans, and the vibes are somehow great for a team that ended the 2022 World Cup with so much strife.

News to Know

Julio’s back
The Eagles signed Julio Jones to their practice squad yesterday, the team announced, filling a desperate team need with a Hall of Fame-worthy face. Jones, 34, isn’t what he used to be, but could still pose a legitimate red-zone threat for the 5-1 Eagles, who have struggled close to the goal line (despite the power of the tush push). Read the full update here.

Flag football is so in
After weeks of speculation, flag football is officially part of the 2028 Olympics, and the story is cooler than just the headline. There has been a years-long effort for wider adoption of flag football, spearheaded by the NFL itself. Several American states have sanctioned it as a varsity sport for girls. See all the details in our handy explainer here.

Sixers, Clips still talking
We are less than a week away from the start of the NBA season, and James Harden is still a Philadelphia 76er. There has been no reconciliation either, as Harden has politely maintained that he prefers to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Interestingly enough, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports both sides are still discussing trade parameters, even though it appears there’s no other market for Harden. One thing to watch: Does Harden play opening night if he’s not traded by then?

More news

  • England qualified for Euro 2024 with a 3-1 win over Italy yesterday. Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham are very good.
  • Lionel Messi scored two goals for Argentina against Peru last night. He now has the CONMEBOL record for goals in World Cup qualifying.
  • South Carolina coach Shane Beamer broke his foot by kicking something in frustration after the Gamecocks’ loss to Florida over the weekend. Ouch.

Beep Boop: Computer, watch the blitz

Find any activity that even remotely involves technology, and you’ll also find someone fretting about artificial intelligence. AI is going to make our lives so much better … or take over the world. 

Those are worries for outside this newsletter. AI is, however, creeping onto our football broadcasts. And as Ted Nguyen writes today, the results are … eerie

  • There’s a great opening story about Sam Schwartzstein, a former offensive lineman and one of the brains behind Amazon Prime’s Defensive Alert AI system. He thought it was buggy at first, before realizing it was highlighting blitzers even he hadn’t yet recognized. And no one really knows how the system identified that blitzer, either.
  • The AI, like any other machine learning tech, is ingesting data, in this case thousands of plays and copious tracking data, and learning how to predict future plays based on it. Simple concept, but the possibilities are wild, even in football. The viewer sees an in-depth look at what the quarterback is processing — correctly or incorrectly. It’s an intense watch, which I think is the point. Playing quarterback is hard. 

My brain goes straight to: Who could this AI beat? Especially after more weeks of learning? Once AI learns how to call plays, I bet it could take an average Big Ten defense and hold Iowa to under 25 points. 

The full story is particularly fascinating. Worth a read this morning.

Pulse Picks

Today’s A1 is a depressing, but intriguing, story: Is the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry too toxic? Austin Meek takes us back to last year’s ugly scene, pairs it with in-depth reporting and tells a compelling story of a rivalry gone wrong

Could the Padres trade Juan Soto this winter? It makes a lot of sense. Jim Bowden has potential partners

I thought Brittany Ghiroli’s column on the Kim Ng situation was outstanding. Ng was a reluctant trailblazer, but her exit makes her into something else entirely: a badass. 

New NFL Power Rankings are here, with a new No. 1: Miami.

The Until Saturday podcast crew analyzes the Texas A&M debacle, which remains one of the most captivating trainwrecks in college football. 

Also in your headphones: David Aldridge and Marcus Thompson II pick the seven teams that could win the NBA title this year. Always listen to those two.

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