The Week In Sports: The Cubs Next Big Thing
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
It's time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WERTHEIMER: In the NBA, it's playoff time. The first round tips off today with the Washington Wizards in Toronto taking on the Raptors. And in baseball, rookie phenom Kris Bryant took his first swing as a major leaguer yesterday, after the Chicago Cubs called him up from the minors. NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now with all the latest. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So the NBA playoffs start today. Who's looking good?
GOLDMAN: I'll tell you what's looking good - my next two months 'cause I get to watch NBA playoff basketball - good time of year.
GOLDMAN: There are three teams at the top, maybe four. In the Western Conference, Golden State has looked fantastic all season. A 67 and 15 regular-season record - one of the greats of all-time really. The Warriors are a top offensive and defensive club. The knock on them, though - they haven't paid their dues. They haven't had the pain of getting close to a title and losing. And for those who ascribe to that theory and that say - and who say experience is a must, defending champion San Antonio is the team to beat in the West. Now, in the East, Atlanta's been wonderful all season with a total team effort. But remember the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, Linda? We haven't heard much about them this season, have we?
WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Yeah.
GOLDMAN: The Cavs had a tough go in the middle of the season, but have gelled and they now look the way many expected them to look. In fact, Las Vegas saw it and say the Cavs are the favorite, slightly, to win the championship.
WERTHEIMER: Even if this is your favorite time, if you're the finalist - is a really long way off. It's June.
GOLDMAN: It is, it is.
WERTHEIMER: So what do we watch in the first round?
GOLDMAN: Well, that's easy. The Clippers - the LA Clippers versus the Spurs. Both red-hot at the end of the season, both stacked with All-Star players, and it's a matchup that's a real downer for fans because one of these teams will lose in the first round. And both are capable of going deep in the playoffs. They are playing each other this early because of a rule with the playoff seeding system that some are criticizing. Certainly, they are in LA. If you went by season records to seed teams in each conference, the Portland Trail Blazers should be the number six seed and playing the Clippers. But Portland got a higher seed - number four - because the Blazers won their division. The rules state you win your division, regardless of your record, you get a seeding in the top four. So going by record, the Clippers would be playing Portland. They'd like that a lot more because they'd have a better chance to beat Portland than they do with San Antonio.
WERTHEIMER: That's not the only quirky rule that's in the news this week. What's up with the Cubs and Kris Bryant?
GOLDMAN: Kris Bryant - yesterday, he got called up from the minors and played his first game for the Cubs - big day. Bryant's considered the next big thing in baseball. A great hitter - he tore up spring training with nine home runs. Certainly, he appeared ready for his close-up in the majors at the beginning of the season. But the Cubs had him start at the season in the minors, kept him there long enough to take advantage of a rule that says if you keep a player in the minors a certain number of days before bringing him up to the majors, he won't have enough days with the major league team to count for a year of service, meaning it'll delay by a year when Bryant can become a free agent and command an enormous salary and potentially leave the team. It's a way teams keep a player tied to them for an extra year at a more palatable price.
WERTHEIMER: OK. So he played his first game yesterday. How'd he do?
GOLDMAN: Not very well (laughter). After all the controversy, he struck out three times and lost to San Diego. He went 0 for 4 at the plate. He did make some nice defensive plays, but that big bat of his was kind of small. Ironically, while Bryant - the projected next big thing - kind of whiffed, the current big thing did not. LA Angels outfielder Mike Trout hit two home runs to become the youngest player to hit a hundred home runs, steal a hundred bases. He's 23, by the way, only five months older than Kris Bryant.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman - thank you very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.