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Sully's Mailbag: Hernandez HRs top epic sports night

You'll have to forgive me if I seem even slower than usual today. My old brain is weary after absorbing a jam-packed night of pro sports activity.

On Thursday night, all four major sports (the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) were in action. The stat site FiveThirtyEight calls it a sports "equinox" and said it was only the 17th time in history that all four have played on the same day. That doesn't include preseason games, of course.

October is a great sports month, but it got even better this year when the NBA decided to start its season early. The equinox will be more common in the years ahead. In fact, all four sports will be on tap again on Sunday, Oct. 29, if the World Series goes to a fifth game.

On to the Mailbag:

Robert Goodwin asks: Biggest story of the night? Ball not balling, McDavid's assist, Hernandez 3hrs/7rbi, Raiders' last-play TD.

Sully: There were some amazing events Thursday night, and each was remarkable in its own way. Connor McDavid's spin-o-rama assist to Patrick Maroon will be one of the highlight plays of the NHL season. He undressed Duncan Keith, one of the best defensemen of his generation, on the play.

Lonzo Ball might be the most overhyped rookie in NBA history. His debut was must-see TV, but his performance was uninspiring. Ball had three points and four assists. He didn't create much and was embarrassed by Patrick Beverley, a top defensive point guard, in the Lakers' loss to the Clippers.

The end of the Raiders-Chiefs game was one of the most bizarre you'll ever see. Oakland had five chances to win the game in the final seconds and finally did so on a Derek Carr pass to Michael Crabtree. Bills fans couldn't have been thrilled to see the Raiders avoid a fifth loss.

But the top story? I'll go with Enrique Hernandez tying a post-season record with three home runs in the Dodgers' 11-1 rout of the Cubs, sewing up the NLCS in five and putting LA in its first World Series since 1988.

First of all, it was a playoff game, which elevates it above the other three. The Dodgers go to the Series for the first time since the Kirk Gibson/Orel Hershiser classic 29 years ago. Clayton Kershaw, the finest pitcher of his day, finally gets to the World Series.

The NLCS had deeper meaning because Hernandez is a native of Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from Hurricane Maria. Hernandez, who had a career-high 11 homers this season, has been wearing a Puerto Rico tee shirt under his jersey and "Pray for PR" and "Don't give up PR" written on his cap.

@Sanford117 asks: Is it too soon to panic with this Sabres team? I was really excited about our prospects this year.

Sully: I suppose if fans had high expectations, they might be about to come unglued. But it was foolish to assume this would be a playoff team after finishing with 78 points a year ago. People should keep their expectations low and stop setting themselves up for a letdown.

There's no cause for panic, but fans ought to be concerned about some of the presumed stars on the team. They won't become a playoff team simply because Jack Eichel is an $80 million player. They need to develop talent and depth through the roster, and they're still not close.

Rasmus Ristolainen has a lot to prove as a top defenseman. He was a problem in his own end last year and got off to a bad start. Is Phil Housley's aggressive style such a great idea for a young D who is struggling to become a responsible defender? Let's hope Ristolainen doesn't come to reflect the Sabres' essential shortcomings, as Housley did in his day.

Sam Reinhart isn't close to justifying being the No. 2 overall pick in a draft. He's not a legitimate top six forward at this point. Entering Friday's game, Reinhart had nine even-strength goals in his last 92 games. He's playing center, but had no assists in the first seven games.

They're young, yes, and it's too early to panic. But it's not too soon for fans to ask questions and rearrange their lofty expectations.

Steve McCarthy asks: We know Ryan Groy can play center and moving Eric Wood to guard would be a huge improvement over Miller/Ducasse. Has anyone asked McDermott why Groy is riding the pine?

Sully: Playing Groy at center and moving Wood to guard doesn't seem to be in the plans. Sean McDermott was asked this week about trying Groy as the starter at right guard and he said it's possible.

“Ryan does some good things and the important part for Ryan is that he does back up Eric as well at the center position," McDermott said. "Ryan does give us some flexibility both at center and as well as at guard.”

McDermott doesn't seem keen on starting Groy, though. He likes him as a backup at both positions. That's a curious stance. They're paying Groy $5 million over two years. He's the likely heir to Wood at center. But if starting him can improve a struggling offensive line, why not try it?

James Maher asks: After leading the NFL in rushing two years in a row, why would coaching implement a new zone blocking strategy for the O Line?

Sully: That's like asking why Rex Ryan would go to a 3-4 after the defense ranked fourth and led the NFL in sacks. Coaches fall in love with their own schemes. Rick Dennison used the zone blocking scheme in Denver, so he installed it with the Bills.

The blocking scheme is an issue, but it's far from the only one. The linemen aren't playing as well this year and the lack of a downfield passing game is a huge problem. Teams crowded the box in previous years, true, but opponents have even less respect for the passing attack now.


Jim Lynch asks: What positions or players would you take with the Bills' top 6 picks in 2018? Assume no going after a QB with a trade up.

Sully: I'll assume no trade if you insist, but they're not getting one of the top quarterbacks without a package. At any rate, here's my list:

1. Quarterback, without question; 2. Wide receiver; 3. Defensive tackle, 4. Rush linebacker; 5. Offensive lineman; 6. Wide receiver. They have a lot of needs. They could also use another cornerback, another defensive lineman, a legitimate backup running back and another offensive lineman. The less they have to spend for the QB, the better.

John Lucas asks: When was the last time a Bill Belichick-coached team lost twice in one season to the same team?

Sully: It's happen several times with New England, if you count playoffs. The Pats lost in the regular season and postseason six times: Against Denver in 2005, Indianapolis in '06, the Jets in 2010, the Giants in 2011, the Ravens in 2012 and the Broncos again in 2015.

Belichick's teams haven't lost twice to a team in the regular season since 2000, his first year in New England. They've had 49 home-and-home meetings in the AFC East since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in '01, and they haven't been swept once.

@koz9130 asks: How badly will the injury to Gordon Hayward hurt Boston’s chance to knock off the Cavs in the East?

Sully: It's a big blow. Hayward, who signed a four-year, $128 million free-agent deal, will probably miss the season after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle six minutes into the opener.

Still, it's not a disaster for the Celtics, who reshaped their roster and weren't going to win the East this season. They'll be a real threat a year or two down the road, when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the No. 3 overall picks in the last two drafts, are ready to come of age.

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