2018: The Year of Long Shots, Moon Shots and Clutch Shots

If there’s anything I learned this month, it’s that nothing is impossible. Underdogs have consistently prevailed, overcoming injuries, deficits and odds to thrill fans. From Central Florida stunning Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day to three NFL quarterbacks making their conference-championship debuts, January has been a roller-coaster in the world of athletics.

Take the events of this past weekend alone. Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs scored a miraculous game-winning touchdown as time expired to deliver his team to the NFC championship. Perennial disappointment Blake Bortles and his Jaguars traveled to Pittsburgh, toppled a talented Steelers squad and scored a whopping 45 points to boot. A quartet of unseeded opponents took down American tennis giants in the first round of the Australian Open. UFC fighter Paige VanZant broke her arm in the first round of her bout yet managed to last another two rounds. Nothing is impossible.

I’m convinced this can only be a good omen for the rest of 2018, and in the spirit of sports dreams coming true, here are two more unlikely feats I’d like to see materialize this year.

Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs

The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t reached the postseason since the 2012 season, when they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Since then, the Lakers have consistently finished last or second-to-last in the Western Conference and are on pace to wind up near the bottom again, currently sitting at 15-28. A playoff berth seems unattainable for the Lakers, but if they were to somehow advance, it would absolutely be entertaining.  While their record may not show it, the Lakeshow has become a team that’s exciting to watch, a team showing flashes of hope and heaps of potential.

Perhaps it was the preseason hype surrounding rookie Lonzo Ball and his reality show-esque family, or maybe it was the team’s triumph over the Houston Rockets in December, but one thing is for certain: the Lakers have reinvigorated basketball in the City of Angels. Led by a group of potential budding stars, including Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, the Lakers are starting to piece together their puzzle of a roster and show some semblance of stability. They can put up 120 points on any given night, though those nights are few and far between. Lonzo electrifies Staples Center with dazzling passes, and he’s surrounded by teammates who can convert those passes into points.

Having the Lakers in the playoffs would add some spice to what’s otherwise a mundane process. Imagine LaVar Ball making the trip from Lithuania to heckle Steph Curry or James Harden from the sideline. Imagine Kyle Kuzma emulating his 38-point performance against the Rockets once or twice to steal a game or two from a conference powerhouse.  Imagine Ball and his teammates finally living up to whatever hype remains and knocking off a team full of NBA veterans. Imagine a group of first and second-year players, underdogs, flipping the script on the usually predictable NBA postseason.

Is this a pipedream? Yes. But nothing is impossible.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both hit more than 61 home runs

Giancarlo Stanton led the MLB with 59 homers last season, followed by rookie sensation Aaron Judge, who launched 52. They are now teammates on the New York Yankees, a franchise with a storied legacy of home-run hitters. There’s Babe Ruth, who broke his own single-season record three times between 1920-1927 as a member of the Yankees, first with 58, then 59, then 60. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who famously competed for the home run title in 1961, are also in the mix. Mantle finished the season with 54 homers, while Maris controversially hit 61 dingers, just eclipsing Ruth’s record.

Now, 57 years later, the Yankees boast two of the league’s premier sluggers who have the potential to embark on a race similar to that of Mantle and Maris, and even break Maris’ long standing team record. It’s no secret Judge and Stanton have the potential to exceed last year’s home run totals; both players muscled their way through talented pitching matchups, and both have put on ridiculously impressive showings at Home Run Derbies at some point in their careers. Stanton blasted a record 61 (coincidence?) homers in 2016, and Judge hit 47 in last year’s contest.

The stars have aligned. Stanton and Judge just so happen to be sporting the Yankees’ notorious pinstripes at the same time, and both are coming off career-high home-run totals. It isn’t hard to envision them vying for the home run crown this season, and it would be a spectacle for baseball fans across the country, but it isn’t exactly easy to see, either. Only two players have surpassed Maris’ record: Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Both have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

Still, a Judge-Stanton race to 61 is worth hoping for. It’s also much more likely than a Lakers playoff appearance. It would be great for the Yanks, for the MLB, and for anyone who enjoys watching athletes who should probably be in the NFL launch baseballs into parking lots. After all, nothing is impossible.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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