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Anti-Doping group is going after Lance Armstrong

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Anti-Doping group is going after Lance Armstrong

From Comcast SportsNet
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Lance Armstrong is facing more doping allegations just a few months after he thought he had finally put them to rest. Although federal investigators in February closed a two-year investigation without bringing criminal charges, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has filed new doping charges that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in cycling's premier race. Armstrong insists he is innocent. "I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one," Armstrong said in a statement. "Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me." The move by USADA immediately bans him from competing in triathlons, which he turned to after he retired from cycling last year. Armstrong has been dogged by doping allegations since his first Tour victory in 1999, but had hoped his fight to be viewed as a clean champion was finally won after federal prosecutors closed their probe. Armstrong has said the investigation took a heavy emotional toll and he was relieved when it ended. But USADA officials insisted they would continue to pursue their investigation into Armstrong and his former teams and doctors, and notified him of the charges in a 15-page letter on Tuesday. Unlike federal prosecutors, USADA isn't burdened by proving a crime occurred, just that there was use of performance-enhancing drugs. In its letter, USADA said its investigation included evidence dating to 1996. It also included the new charge that Armstrong blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 are "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use andor blood transfusions." Armstrong came out of his first retirement to race in the Tour de France those two years. Armstrong, who was in France training for a triathlon, dismissed the latest allegations as "baseless" and "motivated by spite." Even though he last won the Tour seven years ago, the 40-year-old Armstrong remains a popular -- if polarizing -- figure, partly because of his charity work for cancer patients. Since he first retired after the 2005 Tour de France, Armstrong has often said he was tired of fighting doping claims only to vigorously battle to clear his name. He spent millions assembling a legal team during the criminal investigation. In the months since the criminal probe ended, Armstrong has said he would not worry about a USADA investigation and that he's done "wasting" time answering doping questions. Anti-doping officials, however, kept pressing their case and finally laid out the charges in the letter. The USADA letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, accuses Armstrong of using and promoting the use of the blood booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, human growth hormone and anti-inflammatory steroids. The letter doesn't cite specific examples, but says the charges are based on evidence gathered in an investigation of Armstrong's teams, including interviews with witnesses who aren't named. USADA's letter said the agency was also bringing doping charges against Johan Bruyneel, manager of Armstrong's winning teams; team doctors Pedro Celaya and Luis Garcia del Moral; team trainer Pepe Marti, and consulting doctor Michele Ferrari. No one answered the phone at the home of Ferrari in Ferrara, northern Italy. Ferrari's lawyer, Dario Bolognesi, said he was unaware of the USADA action and had no immediate comment. Garcia del Moral's office told The AP in Spain that he would not comment on the charges. Celaya, who is currently on Radioshack's medical staff, was unreachable for comment. Marti also has connections to another high-profile doping case. He was Alberto Contador's team coach through 2010, when the Spaniard was found to have used performance enhancing substances to win the Tour de France for a third time. In February, Contador was stripped of his 2010 title after losing a drawn-out court battle with the International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency. The ruling came just three days after U.S. federal prosecutors dropped a doping investigation involving Armstrong. The American was a teammate of Contador during the Spaniard's 2009 Tour victory. Contador's spokesman said the Spanish rider no longer worked with Marti and that their previous relationship was limited to being teammates. "This is a coincidence of him (Contador) being on the teams for which he (Marti) worked," Jacinto Vidarte told The Associated Press. "It has nothing to do with what has happened. That period of when he was with the team is over." Cycling's governing body, the International Cycling Union, which collected the 2009 and 2010 samples cited in the USADA letter, said it was not involved in the anti-doping group's investigation. According to USADA's letter, more than 10 cyclists as well as team employees will testify they either saw Armstrong dope or heard him tell them he used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone from 1996 to 2005. Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005. During their investigation, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Armstrong supporters and ex-teammates to testify in Los Angeles. One of the most serious accusations came during a "60 Minutes" interview when former teammate Tyler Hamilton said he saw Armstrong use EPO during the 1999 Tour de France and in preparation for the 2000 and 2001 tours. Early in the criminal investigation, Armstrong attorney's accused USADA of offering cyclists a "sweetheart deal" if they would testify or provide evidence against Armstrong. In a letter to USADA last week, Armstrong attorney Robert Luskin noted that USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart participated in witness interviews with federal investigator Jeff Novitzky during the criminal probe. "It is a vendetta, which has nothing to do with learning the truth and everything to do with settling a score and garnering publicity at Lance's expense," Luskin wrote. In a statement, Tygart said, "USADA only initiates matters supported by the evidence. We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence." Armstrong has until June 22 to file a written response to the charges. The case could ultimately go before an arbitration panel to consider evidence. The USADA letter said in that case a hearing should be expected by November.

2019 Encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 Encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.