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Shankland, Xiong Win in Tiebreaks to Reach FIDE World Cup Halfway Point

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Shankland, Xiong Win in Tiebreaks to Reach FIDE World Cup Halfway Point

Image Caption

GM Sam Shankland at the 2021 FIDE World Cup. // photo Anastasiia Korolkova, FIDE

Two American Grandmasters remain in the 2021 FIDE World Cup, the International Chess Federation’s global knockout bracket that enters its halfway Fourth Round in Sochi, Russia.

GMs Sam Shankland and Jeffery Xiong, the World’s Nos. 31 and 33 ranked Grandmasters according to FIDE, advanced as part of the bracket’s remaining 32 players after both Americans were forced to perform in rapid tiebreakers at the end of the third round on Tuesday.

Xiong had been tasked to win-on-demand even earlier than that, since losing the first of his two-game classical match against Swedish World No. 78 GM Nils Grandelius last Sunday. But the Dallas GM leveled the match in the second game, scoring as White against a Grunfeld after catching Grandelius in a greedy pawn grab.

Black had found equality even with Xiong’s c-passer left on the board, but it was the physical act of capture with 28. … Bxc3? that proved to be the predatory mistake. Here in the second classical game, Xiong forced both a mating attack, and a pair of rapid tiebreakers on Tuesday.

Image Caption

Xiong, Jeffery – Grandelius, Nils after 28…Bxc3.

[pgn][Event "FIDE World Cup 2021"] [Site "Krasnaya Polyana RUS"] [Date "2021.07.19"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Grandelius, Nils"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D85"] [WhiteElo "2709"] [BlackElo "2661"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2021.07.12"] {[%evp 16,63,46,4,71,42,41,5,5,-1,3,5,26,25,29,29,37,37,36,37,37,8,41,43,43,4, 48,40,44,48,48,25,23,23,25,22,24,24,22,0,6,-25,180,192,1529,1637,1571,1593, 29987,29985]} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 c5 8. Rb1 O-O 9. Be2 (9. Be3 $14) 9... Bg4 {D85: Exchange Grünfeld: Unusual White 7th moves and lines with 7 Nf3.} (9... Nc6 $11) 10. Rxb7 cxd4 11. Nxd4 $146 ({Predecessor:} 11. cxd4 Bxf3 12. Bxf3 Bxd4 13. O-O Nc6 14. Qa4 Qc8 15. Rb3 Qe6 16. e5 Rac8 17. Bxc6 Qxc6 18. Qxd4 Qxc1 19. Qxa7 Rfd8 20. Qb7 Rc2 21. Rb1 Qa3 22. e6 Rxa2 23. exf7+ Kxf7 {1/2-1/2 (78) Foord,D (2045)-Humphreys, J (2066) England 2011}) 11... Qc8 {And now ...Bxe2 would win.The position is equal.} 12. Rb3 ({Much worse is} 12. Rxe7 Qxc3+ 13. Kf1 Qb4 $17) 12... Bxe2 13. Nxe2 ({But not} 13. Kxe2 Rd8 $17) 13... Nc6 14. O-O Rd8 15. Qc2 Ne5 16. h3 Qc6 17. Bg5 Rd7 18. Rd1 h6 19. Rxd7 Qxd7 20. Bh4 Rd8 (20... Nc4 $11) 21. Nd4 $14 Nc6 22. Nxc6 Qxc6 23. Bxe7 Re8 24. Bh4 Rxe4 25. Bg3 Re1+ 26. Kh2 Qc4 $1 { [%cal Rc4f1] Threatens to win with ...Qf1.} 27. f3 Ra1 {...Qf1 is the strong threat.} 28. Qf2 Bxc3 $2 {This costs Black the game.} (28... h5 $11 {and Black has nothing to worry.}) 29. Qe3 $18 Bd4 (29... Qf1 30. Bf2 Bg7) 30. Rb8+ Kh7 { [#]} 31. Be5 $1 {[%mdl 512]} Bxe5+ (31... Rh1+ 32. Kxh1) 32. Qxe5 {[%csl Gb8] [%cal Re5h8] Weighted Error Value: White=0.13/Black=0.57} 1-0 [/pgn]

“I got absolutely nothing out of the opening, it was equal for about 30 moves or so, just at the last second I think [Grandelius] kind of relaxed,” Xiong said about the second classical game in a FIDE interview. “Because basically just one more precise move and we probably make a draw, so I felt very, very lucky to still be in the match.”

Xiong scored again in the clutch in the first of two rapid 25+10 tiebreakers, winning as Black in a Caro-Kann. The early middlegame nearly saw threefold repetition, before Xiong refreshened the game with 24. … Na5. In a Queen-and-minor piece endgame, Xiong trapped Grandelius’ bishop for two pawns with 47. … g5, and later found the timely 54. … a4! to slip by White’s structure. Grandelius’ decision to trade queens was a mistake in time pressure, allowing Xiong’s multi-functional bishop to flex the final position. In the second rapid tiebreaker, the Dallas GM offered a draw from a winning position to ice the match.

Image Caption

GM Jeffery Xiong in the third round of the 2021 FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia. // photo Eric Rosen, FIDE

[pgn][Event "FIDE World Cup 2021"] [Site "Krasnaya Polyana RUS"] [Date "2021.07.20"] [Round "3.3"] [White "Grandelius, Nils"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B10"] [WhiteElo "2661"] [BlackElo "2709"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "122"] [EventDate "2021.07.12"] {[%evp 9,122,17,31,21,30,38,24,20,36,0,0,-14,-17,-17,-17,-31,-17,-18,-16,-24, -11,-51,-8,-8,-16,-32,-22,-41,-23,-26,3,3,3,-14,-20,-22,12,-1,-8,-25,-22,-26, 12,-21,-31,-20,-13,-34,-7,-58,-60,-60,28,26,38,21,33,33,33,7,18,7,39,39,34,16, 37,0,0,0,0,-12,-8,-19,-18,-29,-21,-49,-46,-46,-49,-49,-49,-49,-40,-81,-81,-80, -81,-81,-81,-80,-80,-80,-82,-101,-99,-101,-99,-104,-96,-168,-168,-632,-618, -635,-597,-1325,-1316,-1788,-29940,-1317,-29966,-1809,-29970]} 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Ne5 g6 6. Bb5+ {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack.} Nbd7 {[%cal Bb8d7,Bd7f6,Bf6e4][%mdl 32]} 7. O-O Bg7 8. Re1 {White has an edge.} O-O 9. Nf3 Ne4 10. c3 Ndf6 11. Nbd2 $146 ({Predecessor:} 11. Bf4 Qb6 12. Qb3 Ng4 13. Re2 e5 14. Nxe5 Nxe5 15. dxe5 Bg4 16. Be3 Nc5 17. Bxc5 Qxc5 {0-1 (50) Lorparizangeneh,S (2747)-Barp,A (2586) Chess.com INT 2020}) 11... Nd6 12. Bf1 b6 13. Ne5 Bb7 14. Ndf3 Nfe4 15. Nd3 Rc8 (15... a5 $15) 16. Nfe5 $11 Nf5 17. g3 e6 18. Bg2 Re8 19. Ng4 f6 20. Ne3 Nfd6 21. Nf1 Nc4 22. Ne3 Ncd6 23. Nf1 Nc4 24. Ne3 Na5 25. Ng4 Qd7 26. f3 Nd6 27. Bh6 Bh8 28. Bf4 (28. Rc1 {is interesting.} Nf7 29. b3 Nc6 30. Bf4 h5 31. Nh6+) 28... Nf7 29. Nh6+ ({White should try} 29. Qe2 $11) 29... Nxh6 $15 30. Bxh6 Nc4 (30... e5 $1 $15) 31. Bh3 $1 $11 Nd6 32. Qd2 Qf7 33. Bf4 Nf5 34. Bxf5 exf5 35. h4 a5 36. Rxe8+ Rxe8 37. Re1 Ba6 38. Kf2 Bg7 39. Rxe8+ Qxe8 40. Qe3 (40. Bd6 { keeps more tension.} Qd7 41. Ba3 h6 42. Nf4 g5 43. Ng6) 40... Qd7 41. b3 Bf8 42. a4 Kf7 43. Ke1 h6 {...g5 is the strong threat.} 44. Qe2 Qc6 45. Kd2 b5 46. axb5 Bxb5 47. Qe3 (47. Qd1 $15) 47... g5 $1 $17 48. hxg5 hxg5 49. Bxg5 Bxd3 50. Qxd3 fxg5 51. Qxf5+ {[%mdl 64] [#] Double Attack} Ke8 52. Kc2 Be7 53. f4 gxf4 54. gxf4 Kd8 55. c4 {[#]} (55. Kb2 $17) 55... a4 $1 $19 {[%cal Ra4b3,Ba5a4, Ba4a3][%mdl 32] Hoping for ...axb3+.} ({Resist} 55... dxc4 56. Qxa5+ Kd7 57. Qf5+ Kd8 58. Qa5+ Kc8 59. bxc4 $15) 56. Qxd5+ $2 (56. c5) 56... Qxd5 57. cxd5 { KB-KP} a3 58. Kb1 Bd6 59. Ka2 Ke7 60. f5 Kf6 61. b4 Bxb4 {Weighted Error Value: White=0.34/Black=0.09} 0-1 [/pgn]

After a built-in tournament rest day on Wednesday, Xiong moves on for a match with Indian World No. 22 GM Santosh Gujrathi Vidit, who squeaked in to the fourth round after a marathon tiebreaker session with compatriot GM Baskaran Adhiban that went deep through two 5+3 blitz tiebreakers on Tuesday.

Shankland nearly had one foot out the door on Tuesday, after drawing both classical games with third-round opponent Ukraine GM Alexander Areshchenko. As Black in the first rapid tiebreaker, a time control that the California GM is the first to admit plays to his disadvantage, Shankland had lost control of a Najdorf Sicilian and was running out of space and time when his Russian opponent left open a tactical shot that brought two of Shankland’s passers home.

The White queen’s capture at 54. Qxf8 pulls her out of bounds, allowing 54. … Qd5+ and the d-pawn queens. The nice intermezzo 56. … Qd2+ allowed Black continued protection of the passed f-pawn, and Shankland’s monarch team works in perfect tandem to see the new queen to the board.

[pgn][Event "FIDE World Cup 2021"] [Site "Krasnaya Polyana RUS"] [Date "2021.07.20"] [Round "3.4"] [White "Areshchenko, Alexander"] [Black "Shankland, Sam"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2687"] [BlackElo "2709"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "144"] [EventDate "2021.07.12"] {[%evp 23,144,10,31,12,12,12,12,7,10,7,13,15,6,0,1,1,0,-14,-12,-47,-23,-23,-18, -18,-21,-25,-8,-19,-19,-21,-1,-9,0,0,0,0,0,-4,-1,-24,-21,-23,-20,-29,-17,-17, -22,-31,0,0,42,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,15,13,30,23,29,29,22,29,34,25,40,30,30,43,42,9,21, 21,21,21,71,0,160,17,17,-12,-12,-90,-61,-88,-104,-197,-201,-203,-204,-196,-195, -192,-199,-194,-194,-295,-292,-292,-247,-266,-274,-243,-242,-268,-86,-383,-314, -1010,-1082,-1003,-1024,-989,-782,-1304,-1305,-1282,-1319,-1319,-1320]} 1. e4 { Ftacnik,L} c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. f3 Be7 9. Qd2 O-O 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 12. g5 Nh5 {outshines the older 12...b4.} 13. Kb1 {B90: Sicilian Najdorf: Unusual White 6th moves, 6 Be3 Ng4 and 6 Be3 e5.} Nb6 14. Na5 {Hoping for Nc6.} Rc8 15. Nd5 {The position is equal.} Nxd5 16. exd5 Bxd5 17. Qxd5 Qxa5 18. c4 Nf4 19. Bxf4 exf4 20. cxb5 axb5 21. Qxb5 $146 ({Predecessor:} 21. h4 Rc5 22. Qb3 d5 23. Be2 Rd8 24. Rd4 Qb6 25. Rhd1 h6 26. Rxf4 hxg5 27. hxg5 Bxg5 28. Rb4 Rdc8 29. a3 Rc1+ 30. Ka2 Qf2 31. Bxb5 Rxd1 {1/2-1/2 (31) Leko,P (2679)-Giri,A (2762) Heraklion 2017 CBM 182 [Ftacnik,L]}) 21... Qa7 22. h4 Rc5 23. Qa6 Qc7 24. Bd3 Rb8 25. Rc1 d5 26. Rxc5 Bxc5 27. Rc1 {[#]} Qe5 $1 {[%csl Gb8][%cal Re5b2]} 28. Bb5 d4 29. Bd3 g6 30. Ka1 Bf8 31. Qc4 Qe3 32. h5 {White wants to play hxg6.} Rb4 33. Qc2 {[%cal Rh5g6]} gxh5 34. Bxh7+ Kg7 $1 {Threatens to win with ...Rb5.} 35. Bd3 h4 36. g6 h3 (36... fxg6 $11 37. Qc7+ Be7) 37. gxf7 (37. Rh1 $1 $14 Rb6 38. gxf7 (38. Rxh3 Qg1+ 39. Qb1 Qxb1+ 40. Kxb1 fxg6 $16)) 37... Rb6 $1 $11 38. Rh1 Rh6 39. a3 {Black must now prevent Ka2.} h2 40. Qg2+ ({Not} 40. Rxh2 $2 Qg1+ 41. Ka2 Rxh2 $19) 40... Kf6 41. Be4 Kxf7 42. Ka2 d3 $1 43. Rxh2 Rxh2 44. Qxh2 {Qh5+ is the strong threat.} d2 45. Qh5+ Ke7 46. Qe5+ Kd8 47. Qd5+ Ke7 $1 48. Qe5+ Kd8 49. Qb8+ ({Much less strong is} 49. Qd5+ $6 Ke7 $16) 49... Ke7 50. Qc7+ Kf6 (50... Ke6 $11 51. Qc8+ Ke7 52. Qc7+ Ke6 53. Qc8+ Ke7 54. Qc7+) 51. Bc2 (51. Qd8+ $1 $16 Ke6 52. Qe8+ Be7 53. Qg8+ Kd7 54. Qd5+ Bd6 55. Qf7+ Kd8 56. Bc6) 51... Kg5 $2 (51... Qe6+ $11 52. b3 Qd6 53. Qxd6+ Bxd6) 52. Qf7 (52. Qc6 $1 $16 {[%cal Rc6g6] Qg6+ would kill now.} Kh4 53. Qf6+ {[%mdl 64] Double Attack} Kg3 54. Qxf8) 52... Qxf3 53. Qf5+ Kh4 54. Qxf8 (54. Bd1 $11 Qxd1 55. Qxf4+ Qg4 56. Qxd2 ) 54... Qd5+ $17 55. b3 $1 d1=Q 56. Bxd1 (56. Qf6+ $17 Kh3 57. Bxd1 Qd2+ 58. Qb2 Qxd1 59. Qc3+ f3 60. a4) 56... Qd2+ $19 57. Kb1 Qxd1+ {[%mdl 4160] Endgame Double Attack. KQ-KQ} 58. Kb2 Qd2+ {[%mdl 1024] Black has strong compensation.} 59. Kb1 Qd3+ 60. Kb2 f3 61. Qh6+ (61. Qf4+ $142 Kh3 62. a4) 61... Kg3 62. Qg5+ Kf2 63. a4 Ke1 64. Qg3+ Ke2 65. Qg4 {[#]} Kd2 $2 (65... Qe3 $1 $19 {is more deadly. Strongly threatening ...Ke1.} 66. a5 Qd2+ 67. Kb1 Qd5) 66. Qf4+ $2 { [%mdl 8192] This costs White the game.} (66. Qg5+ $17 {was the only defense.} Ke2 67. Qg4) 66... Kd1 67. a5 $2 {[#]} (67. Ka3 Qc3 68. Qg4) 67... Qe2+ $1 { Black is clearly winning.} 68. Ka3 f2 69. Qd4+ Kc2 {( -> ...Qe7+)} 70. Qc5+ Kb1 71. Qf5+ Qc2 72. Qf6 Qc1+ {[%mdl 32768] Weighted Error Value: White=0.15/ Black=0.13. Loss on time!?} 1-0 [/pgn]

On paper, Shankland was set for an all-US Chess meeting with compatriot GM Fabiano Caruana in the fourth round, though the World No. 2 fell as the biggest name among several top-seed upsets in the third round. Caruana lost his match by dropping the second classical game with the White pieces against World No. 124 and Uzbekhistan No. 1 GM Rinat Jumabayev.

Image Caption

GM Fabiano Caruana was eliminated in the third round of the 2021 FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia. // photo Eric Rosen, FIDE

Caruana lost more than control of a Queens Gambit Declined with the World Cup exit; when FIDE updates its rankings in August, Caruana will be under a 2800 rating he had maintained since March 2018, and out of the World No. 2 spot held since that June.

[pgn][Event "FIDE World Cup 2021"] [Site "Krasnaya Polyana RUS"] [Date "2021.07.19"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Jumabayev, Rinat"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D36"] [WhiteElo "2806"] [BlackElo "2637"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2021.07.12"] {[%evp 23,116,33,33,33,44,44,49,21,42,14,55,55,49,47,62,45,57,35,56,49,66,56, 66,55,60,55,69,27,70,-20,-3,-37,-58,-58,-54,-50,-58,-66,-63,-67,-51,-54,138, 122,138,122,135,132,128,128,138,86,86,64,64,0,0,0,0,-199,-197,-181,-162,-241, -243,-163,-213,-258,-266,-254,-254,-239,-246,-282,-286,-283,-281,-293,-300, -300,-287,-279,-279,-283,-282,-317,-290,-372,-375,-1238,-29907,-1240,-1240, -29971,-29974]} 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 c6 6. Qc2 Be7 7. e3 Nbd7 8. Bd3 Nh5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nge2 g6 11. O-O O-O 12. Rae1 Ndf6 13. Nc1 {D36: Queen's Gambit Declined: Exchange Variation: Main line (5 Bg5 c6 6 Qc2).} Be6 $5 {[%mdl 4] A promising side line.} 14. f3 b6 15. Qf2 {White is slightly better.} c5 16. Qh4 $146 ({Predecessor:} 16. g4 Ng7 17. N1e2 Rad8 18. Nf4 cxd4 19. exd4 Qd6 20. Qd2 Qb4 21. Nfe2 h5 22. h3 {1-0 (44) Real de Azua,E (2441)-Valerga,D (2482) Buenos Aires 2015}) 16... Qd8 (16... c4 $11) 17. g4 Ng7 18. N1e2 Rb8 19. a4 c4 20. Bc2 a6 21. Nf4 b5 22. axb5 axb5 23. b4 cxb3 24. Bxb3 b4 25. Nce2 (25. Na4 $14) 25... Bc8 (25... Bd7 $11 {should be considered.}) 26. Ng3 (26. Ra1 $14) 26... Ba6 $11 27. g5 Bxf1 28. Rxf1 Nfe8 29. Nxd5 Rb5 $1 { [%cal Rb5d5]} 30. Qe4 Qxg5 31. f4 Qd8 32. f5 Nf6 $2 (32... Nd6 $15 {stays ahead.} 33. Qg2 Ndxf5 34. Rxf5 (34. Nxf5 $2 gxf5 35. Rxf5 Kh8 $17) 34... Nxf5 35. Nxf5 Kh8) 33. Nxf6+ $16 Qxf6 34. fxg6 Qxg6 {[#]} 35. Bxf7+ $1 {[%mdl 512]} Qxf7 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 {[#]} 37. Qd3 (37. Qc2 $142 $1 {[%cal Rc2c8]} Rb6 38. Qb3) 37... Rg5 38. Kg2 Nf5 $1 39. e4 (39. d5 $14 h6 40. d6) 39... Nh4+ $11 40. Kh3 Ng6 {[%cal Rg6f4] aiming for ...Nf4+.} 41. Qc4 $2 {[#] White is now going downhill.} (41. Qd2 $1 $11 h6 42. Nf5 (42. Qxb4 h5 $17)) 41... h5 $1 $19 { ( -> ...Nf4+)} 42. Kg2 (42. Qxb4 $2 {gets mated.} Nf4+ 43. Kh4 Rg4#) 42... h4 { [%mdl 64] Strongly threatening ...Kg7. Pin} 43. Kh3 (43. Qc8+ {keeps fighting.} Kh7 44. Qe8) 43... hxg3 44. hxg3 Kg7 {Threatens to win with ...Rf3.} 45. Qxb4 Rf3 46. Qb7+ Kh6 47. Qb8 Re3 48. d5 Rxe4 49. d6 {Black must now prevent d7.} Rd4 50. Qb2 Rxd6 51. Qc3 Rdd5 52. Qe3 Ra5 53. Kg2 Rae5 54. Qd4 Rd5 55. Qe3 {[#] } Rd3 $3 {[%mdl 512]} 56. Qe1 (56. Qc1) 56... Nf4+ 57. Kf2 Rgxg3 {[%csl Gg3] [%cal Rd3f3]} 58. Qe4 Rg2+ {Weighted Error Value: White=0.30/Black=0.12} 0-1 [/pgn]
Round 3 Results

GM Sam Shankland, 2709 vs. Ukraine GM Alexander Areshchenko, 2.5-1.5
GM Jeffery Xiong, 2709 vs. Sweden GM Nils Grandelius, 2.5-1.5
Kazakhstan GM Rinat Jumabayev def. GM Fabiano Caruana, 1.5-0.5
Poland GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda def. GM Sam Sevian, 1.5-0.5
Russia GM Vladimir Fedoseev def. GM Timur Gaeyev, 1.5-0.5

Women’s World Cup

Georgia GM Nana Dzagnidze def. IM Carissa Yip, 3-1

Image Caption

IM Carissa Yip won a classical game against Georgia GM Nana Dzagnidze, but eventually lost both rapid tiebreakers in round 3 of the 2021 FIDE Women’s World Cup. // photo Eric Rosen, FIDE

American Round 4 Matches in the 2021 FIDE World Cup

GM Sam Shankland, 2709 vs. Kazakhstan GM Rinat Jumabayev, 2637
GM Jeffery XiongVfL Bochum vs. 1. FC Union Berlin Indian GM Santosh Gujrathi Vidit, 2726

Each round in the FIDE World Cup is scheduled across three days, played as a two-game match that alternates white and black pieces over the first two days. Each match game is played with a classical time control, using 90 minutes on the clock plus an additional 30 minutes after 40 moves, with a 30-second per-move increment. If needed, the third day is used for tiebreaker games that decrease in time control until one player breaks through, beginning with two rapid 25-minute, 10-second increment games; then followed by two rapid 10-minute, 10-second increment games; two blitz 5-minute, 3-second increment games, and then finally forcing a winner with sudden death Armageddon.

Games begin every day at 8:00 a.m. eastern, with full rest days scheduled before round 4 on Wednesday, July 21, and before round 7 on Saturday, July 31. For complete information on the FIDE World Cup 2021 and the Women’s World Cup, visit the official website.


FIDE World Cup 2021 Quick Links

Official Website with Live Broadcast

World Cup Bracket and Results

Women’s World Cup Bracket and Results

Schedule

Live games on Chess.com

Live games on Chess24.com

Fashion

Emmys Red Carpet Fashion: Most Memorable Looks from Anya Taylor-Joy to Billy Porter

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Emmys Red Carpet Fashion: Most Memorable Looks from Anya Taylor-Joy to Billy Porter

After a 2020 awards show where the nominees appeared virtually, the Emmy Awards are back and in person this year. Taking place at L.A.

Live in downtown Los Angeles, the red carpet parade started at 3 p.m. PT with early arrivals including The Crown‘s Josh O’Connor wearing Loewe, Nailed It! host Nicole Byer in a purple Christian Siriano gown, Rita Wilson in Tom Ford and SNL‘s Bowen Yang in silver platform heels.

Read on to see the the best and the worst of the night — from the head-turners to the head-scratchers — of the Emmys red carpet.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Dior

Nominee Anya Taylor-Joy wore a pale yellow gown and yellow opera coat by Dior Haute Couture. Tiffany & Co. diamonds completed the look.

Regé-Jean Page in Giorgio Armani

The Bridgerton nominee wore made-to-measure Giorgio Armani: a midnight blue silk jacquard double-breasted evening jacket with a modified shawl collar, paired with classic evening trousers and a midnight blue evening shirt with a hidden placket. His accessories included a Longines watch, velvet tuxedo slippers by Gianvito Rossi and a sapphire and gold stud earring by Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Cathy Waterman.

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Regé-Jean Page
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Michaela Coel in Christopher John Rogers

Quadruple nominee Michaela Coel wore a bold neon two-piece gown by Christopher John Rogers.

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Michaela Coel
Rich Fury/Getty

Kate Winslet in Giorgio Armani

Winner Kate Winslet paired her black silk cady and chiffon gown by Giorgio Armani Privé with vintage jewelry from Fred Leighton.

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Kate Winslet
Rich Fury/Getty

Elizabeth Olsen in The Row

Nominee Elizabeth Olsen wore a caftan-like gown designed by her sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, for The Row, plus jewelry by Chopard.

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Elizabeth Olsen
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Hannah Waddingham in Christian Siriano

Emmy winner Hannah Waddingham, with co-star and fellow winner Brett Goldstein, wore a peach silk draped dress by Christian Siriano.

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Hannah Waddingham
Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty

Mj Rodriguez in Versace

Pose nominee Mj Rodriguez wore a custom teal gown by Atelier Versace with jewelry by Bulgari. “I wanted to look like water coming out of the sea,” the actress said on the red carpet.

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MJ Rodriguez
Rich Fury/Getty

Sarah Paulson

Sarah Paulson wore a red ruched gown with a deep V neck by Carolina Herrera with diamond earrings by Mateo.

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Sarah Paulson
Rich Fury/Getty

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling wore a black column gown with a custom bow by Carolina Herrera and shoes by Jimmy Choo, plus more than 50 carats of diamonds by De Beers Jewellers.

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Mindy Kaling
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Taraji P. Henson in Elie Saab

Taraji P. Henson wore a plunging gown by Elie Saab, jewelry by Roberto Coin and shoes by Sophia Webster.

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Taraji P. Henson
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Jason Sudeikis in Tom Ford

Ted Lasso winner Jason Sudeikis, ditching his hoodies, wore a velvet tuxedo and boots by Tom Ford.

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Jason Sudeikis
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Billy Porter in Ashi

Pose star Billy Porter wore a winged custom look by Ashi with jewelry by Lorraine Schwartz and H. Crowne. “You know we got the wings. It was supposed to go all the way to the floor. That didn’t work out,” said the actor on the EW / People pre-show.

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Billy Porter

Kaley Cuoco in Vera Wang

Nominee Kaley Cuoco wore a neon-hued gown by Vera Wang Haute with diamonds by De Beers Jewellers.

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Kaley Cuoco
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Issa Rae

Issa Rae wore a gown by Jason Rembert for New York-based Aliétte with graphic earrings by London-based jewelry designer Fernando Jorge.

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Issa Rae
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Kerry Washington in Etro

Kerry Washington wore a custom pale lilac bias-cut silk gown with corset detailing by Etro.

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Kerry Washington
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Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore wore a crimson gown by Carolina Herrera.

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Mandy Moore
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Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton

Nominee Cynthia Erivo wore a custom feather-trimmed leather halter gown by Louis Vuitton with diamonds by Roberto Coin.

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Cynthia Erivo
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Josh O’Connor in Loewe

The Crown star Josh O’Connor, winner for best lead actor in a drama series, wore a custom suit by Loewe with a black-tie element in the shape of a flower. “I’m wearing head to toe Loewe and this is a flower. We’ve had some kind of issues with keeping it up but it’s holding, that’s the story,” he said on the People/Entertainment Weekly red-carpet pre-show.

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Josh O’Connor
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Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett wore a black column gown with pink ruffle detail by Greta Constantine, paired with jewelry by Gismondi 1754.

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Angela Bassett
Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty

Jurnee Smollett in Dior

Lovecraft Country nominee Jurnee Smollett wore Dior Haute Couture paired with Bulgari jewelry and Christian Louboutin shoes. “Thank you @dior and @mariagraziachiuri for making me feel like a princess in this dreamy dress,” wrote the actress on her Instagram.

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Jurnee Smollett
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Cedric The Entertainer in Jason Rembert

Emmy Awards telecast host Cedric the Entertainer wore a graphic blue suit by stylist and designer Jason Rembert. “I feel good. I feel swaggy. We gonna do a couple other looks tonight. We gonna go hard with it,” the comedian said on the EW / People pre-show.

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Cedric the Entertainer
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Emma Corrin in Miu Miu

In London, The Crown nominee Emma Corrin wore a custom gown with matching gloves and cap by Miu Miu. The star called the look “crucible realness for EMMYS 2021″ on Instagram.

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Emma Corrin
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Jean Smart

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Jean Smart
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Kathryn Hahn in Lanvin

Nominee Kathryn Hahn wore a strapless jumpsuit with belt by Lanvin and an emerald. She also wore a diamond necklace, with diamond and emerald rings, all from New York-based estate jewelry Briony Raymond. “I love wearing a jumpsuit. It feels like me,” said the WandaVision star on the THAT ONE/People pre-show.

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Kathryn Hahn
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Yara Shahidi in Dior

Yara Shahidi wore a custom emerald-hued gown by Dior Haute Couture, jewelry by Cartier and nude leather pumps by Christian Louboutin.

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Yara Shahidi
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Allison Janney in Azzi & Osta

Nominee Allison Janney wore an ivory look by Azzi & Osta, comprised of a structured crepe belted jacket with a peplum and draped neckline that transforms into a shawl with a custom full-length fitted skirt with slit.

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Allison Janney
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Leslie Odom Jr.

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Leslie Odom Jr.
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America Ferrera

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America Ferrera
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Annie Murphy in Valentino

Annie Murphy wore a crepe and chiffon draped shirtdress by Valentino Haute Couture with one-of-a-kind earrings and ring embellished with aquamarines by Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth.

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Annie Murphy
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Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Keri Russell, seen on the red carpet with partner Matthew Rhys, wore a rose-hued beaded gown with a front slit and caped train by Zuhair Murad.

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Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys
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Michael Douglas in Canali and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Christina Octavian

Catherine Zeta-Jones wore a gown by New York-based designer Christina Ottaviano, diamonds by Lorraine Schwartz and satin pumps by Christian Louboutin, while nominee Michael Douglas wore a suit by Canali.

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Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones
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Robin Thede in Jason Wu

Double nominee Robin Thede wore a custom gown by Jason Wu Atelier with vintage jewels from Fred Leighton.

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Robin Thede
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Ellen Pompeo in Elie Saab

The actress wore a black velvet long-sleeve jumpsuit with crystal detailing by Elie Saab.

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Ellen Pompeo

Nicole Byer in Christian Siriano

Nailed It! host Nicole Byer, nominated for outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program, wore a purple ballgown by Christian Siriano. Getting ready, she said on the People/THAT ONE pre-show, “took like a full two hours.”

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Nicole Byer
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Catherine O’Hara

Catherine O’Hara wore a jumpsuit by Cong Tri with jewelry by Anne Sisteron.

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Catherine O’Hara
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Tracee Ellis Ross in Valentino

Nominee Tracee Ellis Ross wore a beaded chiffon dress by Valentino Haute Couture with jewelry by Tiffany & Co. and patent-leather pumps by Christian Louboutin.

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Tracee Ellis Ross
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Rita Wilson in Tom Ford

Rita Wilson, taking part in the opening of the awards show, wore a black silk tuxedo with sequined top by Tom Ford with jewelry by David Yurman.

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Rita Wilson attends the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards at L.A. LIVE on September 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
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Samira Wiley in Sara Cavazza Facchini for Genny

Nominee Samira Wiley is wearing a tuxedo by Sara Cavazza Facchini for Genny, with jewelry by David Yurman and Lark & Berry and shoes by Sophia Webster.

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Samira Wiley
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Bowen Yang in Ermenegildo Zegna

SNL nominee Bowen Yang wore a tuxedo by Ermenegildo Zegna, jewelry by Tiffany & Co. and silver platform heels by Brooklyn-based Syro, a queer-owned cult footwear brand co-founded by Henry Bae and Shaobo Han.

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Bowen Yang
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Kenan Thompson

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Kenan Thompson
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Dan Levy

Presenter Dan Levy wore three pieces from Valentino Haute Couture’s fall winter 2021 collection: a gabardine jacket in electric blue, a velvet-lurex shirt and wool trousers with gabardine panels.

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Dan Levy
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Uzo Aduba

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Uzo Aduba
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Bo Burnham

Nominee Bo Burnham wore a blue velvet tuxedo by Etro and jewelry by David Yurman.

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Bo Burnham
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Amber Ruffin

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Amber Ruffin
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Carl Clemons-Hopkins

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Carl Clemons-Hopkins
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Gillian Anderson in Chloe

In London, nominee Gillian Anderson wore a midriff-baring look by Chloe.

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Gillian Anderson
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Trevor Noah

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Trevor Noah
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Brendan Hunt

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Brendan Hunt
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Susan Kelechi Watson in Markarian

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Susan Kelechi Watson
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Dave Burd

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Dave Burd
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Cecily Strong

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Cecily Strong
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Ashley Nicole Black

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Ashley Nicole Black
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Beth Behrs in Georges Hobeika

Beth Behrs wore a beaded silk gown by Georges Hobeika with diamond Vine ear cuffs by Graziela.

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Beth Behrs
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D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai

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D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai
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Madeline Brewer

Nominee Madeline Brewer wore a bronze lacquered knit tank dress by Tom Ford.

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Madeline Brewer
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Anthony Anderson

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Anthony Anderson
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Sophia Bush in Markarian

Sophia Bush wore a pink silk-faille gown by Alexandra O’Neill for Markarian.

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Sophia Bush
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Ken and Tran Jeong

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Ken Jeong and Tran Jeong
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Dynasty Baseball: 5 Impactful Waiver Wire Adds for 2022

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Aaron Ashby Dynasty Waiver Wire Adds

Fantasy baseball is a grind. It is six consecutive months of checking your lineup every day and making sure you have the best team you can put out there. The luxury of a dynasty league is that you can stash players for next season, assuming you have a decent-sized bench. When you are out of it and there is nothing to compete for this year, there is always something you can do to improve your odds for the following season–this is where the waiver wire comes in. Staying active on the waiver wire will allow you to get those late bloomers or post-hype prospects that no one cares about anymore. Let’s go over five players that may be available on your waiver wire and could impact your team in 2022.


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5 Waiver Wire Adds for 2022

Aaron Ashby, Milwaukee Brewers (23% Owned)

No one has done a better job developing arms than the Milwaukee Brewers, see: Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy peralta, Devin Williams, Josh Hader, you get the idea.

Aaron Asby may be the next in line here. Ashby features a strange mix, 37-percent sliders, 37-percent sinkers, and 21-percent changeups; along with a curveball and four-seamer that he barely throws.

One thing that stands out about Ashby’s game is the vertical movement on all of his pitches. This allows him to generate whiffs and ground balls with his main offerings. The curveball, changeup, and slider all grade out well-above average in terms of vertical movement. While the sinker grades slightly above average, throwing it at 94-98 mph.

Ground Ball King

Combining his Triple-A and big-league outings, roughly 89 innings pitched. He has managed to induce a 67% ground ball rate. That isn’t just special, it is near league-leading good.

Just to give you an idea of how special it is. If you take the qualified innings down to a minimum of 100 innings pitches. The best ground ball rates in the entire league are Framber Valdez at 69.2% and Logan Webb at 61.1%, two obviously great pitchers.

His sinker is currently inducing a negative-eight-degree launch angle on average. It doesn’t matter how hard you get hit, if virtually every batted ball you allow is on the ground, you are going to have lots of success. So while the sinker is the ground ball pitch, the slider is the whiff pitch.

Ashby’s slider is currently whiffing hitters at a 46-percent clip while only allowing one single base hit in 133 pitches. Granted, he has only pitched 23 innings, impressive nonetheless.

The main concern here is command. This is where we go back to our first point, the Milwaukee Brewers. Do you remember when Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes had command issues? Even Woodruff had over four walks per nine in almost an entire season at Triple-A in 2018. Just to see that number cut in half his first season in the big leagues.

When an organization has shown over and over again an ability to turn talented arms into effective big league pitchers. You should keep betting on it because they clearly have a plan for talent and how to develop it at the next level.

Don’t let Ashby stay unstashed in your keeper or dynasty league, go out and add him immediately.

Connor Joe, Colorado Rockies (34% Owned)

Despite being on his sixth different team since being drafted in 2014, there is a lot to like about Connor Joe. He hits the ball hard, makes contact, and has a great eye at the plate. If he were say three or four years younger, there would probably be a lot more interest here.

While the outfield for the Rockies is relatively crowded. It’s not crowded with that much talent. Charlie Blackmon is approaching his age-36 season, Garrett Hampson and Raimel tapia are two of the worst hitters in baseball, and Sam Hilliard probably doesn’t deserve to be in the big leagues.

You aren’t going to see a better dart throw in a dynasty or keeper league waiver wire than a potential everyday outfielder for Colorado.

Underlying Metrics

We will start with the batted ball metrics. He has an elite max exit velocity at 113 MPH, 90th percentile in all of baseball. Max exit velocity is important because it’s a general idea of what your ceiling is as a power hitter. Given Joe rates so well in it while calling Coors Field his home, gives him roughly a 30-home run ceiling.

Another reason, his strikeout to walk rate is fantastic. During his first 211 plate appearances this season, he has managed a 19.4-percent strikeout rate and a 12.3-percent walk rate. Even digging deeper into the plate discipline metrics– a 17.4% chase rate and an 83.8% in-zone contact rate would dictate to us that what he is doing is absolutely sustainable. Those underlying metrics have led to a .285/.379/.469 slash line (115 wRC+). This includes 11 more away games than home games, giving his line the potential to be better in a larger sample.

Joe to me is just someone I want to round my team out with, regardless of where I am in the standings. A solid bench bat that provides a good offensive floor is always something you will need. Go make sure you add him off the waiver wire before he gets activated from the injured list prior to the season-ending. If not, you run the risk of a contending team scooping Joe up for the last couple of games.

Yonny Hernandez, Texas Rangers (13% Owned)

Considering the era we now play fantasy baseball in, stolen bases are hard to come by. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. Getting cheap steals from someone like Yonny Hernandez can make a huge impact on your team.

During his first 27 games as a big leaguer, he has 10 stolen base attempts, being successful on nine of them. Getting on-base at a .341 clip and playing on one of the worst teams in baseball allows him to have a green light quite often. Something you can rely on, even if he continues to hit eighth or ninth for the Rangers.

Everyday Speedster

Though he isn’t a special player, there is potential there. On a Rangers team bereft of talent, there is an argument to be made that he should be playing every day.

Hernandez has two strong arguments in his favor, outside of the stolen bases. One, he makes a lot of contact. Even during his stints in the minor leagues, he has never had a strikeout rate above 17.5-percent, while posting one as low as 12.1-percent. You can even see those skills translating to the major leagues. Hernandez has a 4.5-percent swinging-strike rate and a 92.1-percent in-zone contact rate. Both elite rates, without even factoring in that this is his rookie season, at age-23.

The second argument for playing every day is that he is a plus defender. The issue becomes, where does he fit on this Rangers roster. Hernandez is mostly a third baseman while ranging around to second and short as well. One of the few Rangers prospects close to the big leagues is Josh Jung, who projects to be an everyday player. Nick Lefty has the potential to block Hernandez at second base, though he’s had his fair share of struggles. At least next season, those positions may be taken up.

The position that makes the most sense for Hernandez in the future is shortstop. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not a long-term option, as he projects to be similar to Hernandez except three years older and two years away from being a free agent. It’s easy to see a trade scenario that sends Kiner-Falefa to a team in need of a competent backup infielder, such as the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

There is no guarantee that Hernandez is in the Rangers starting lineup on Opening Day in 2022. But, it’s a great risk to take given his stolen base upside and floor as a fantasy player in general. Not killing you in batting average or on-base percentage while providing a category that is hard to come by. If you have any empty bench spot, it makes sense to stash him, and hope he can give you 30 plus stolen bases next season.

Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels (42% Owned)

Reid Detmers was taken 10th overall in the 2020 draft. Only to pitch 60 innings in the minor leagues before making his big league debut at the beginning of August. If you were to look at his surface stats, it would appear there is nothing to get excited about with Detmers. But taking a deeper look, we can find a lot to like with the Angels left-hander.

Looking beyond the numbers

Despite having an ERA north of seven, Detmers’ stuff has shown to be good enough to get swings and misses at the highest level. He possesses two plus pitches in his curveball and slider. Both pitches grade well-above average in terms of vertical movement, with the results to back it up. Each pitch has over a 30% whiff rate to go along with a batting average below .200.

Clearly, something is wrong mechanically. Just by looking at his pitch locations per pitch, on Baseball Savant. It will be apparent to anyone that he has no command of any pitch, so far. The weird thing is that Detmers is supposed to be known for his command. Most scouting sites have him at a 55-future command, which is more than good enough to compete in the big leagues. Even in the minor leagues, he walked eight percent of batters and gave up 1.67 home runs per nine. Way too high a number for someone that graduated to the big leagues.

Considering Detmers just turned 22 years old literally last week. We should see some progression next season as he matures in the big leagues. So while it may not look pretty now, the idea is that you can stash him for free off the waiver wire and reap the rewards as he develops in the near future.

Rowdy Tellez, Milwaukee Brewers (40% Owned)

You never want to make assumptions in the world of Major League Baseball. Though, it is safe to assume that the National League will implement a DH next season. This means a handful of players will gain a lot of value next season. One of those players includes a left-handed slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers, Rowdy Tellez.

Tellez brings a unique set of skills to the table that most 6’4” first basemen do not have in common. An elite-batted ball profile that pairs an elite max exit velocity, 117, with a great barrel rate, 11-percent for his career.

What separates him from the pack of first basemen in his tier is the ability to make contact. Even though we haven’t seen this set of skills turn into results yet, Tellez has put together a 445 plate appearance sample, 2020 and 2021 combined, of an 18.9-percent strikeout rate. Not only is that impressive for a batter with so much power, but it ranks 12th best of 39 qualified first baseman in that span.

Why it has not worked so far

Trying to dig deeper into why his profile hasn’t produced results yet. Sometimes it just takes time to adjust to the big league level. We are talking about someone who has only played in 273 big league games spanning over four seasons– roughly 68 games a season to get an idea of how little that is.

He hits the ball in the air enough, so launch angle isn’t the issue. There are some struggles against the shift but not so much so that it tanks his entire batting line, .290 wOBA with the shift, .320 wOBA without it. While chasing at balls outside the zone is an issue, he has seen that number go down since his first full season, which is encouraging. Nothing really stands out as to why he isn’t performing better than expected. It’s probably safe to say, it’s a little bit of a shifting problem, he is quite slow, and probably chases at pitches outside the zone a little too much.

If we get a full season of Rowdy at Miller Park, in what should be an improved Brewers lineup next season with a DH. It’s possible we see Rowdy crank out 30 home runs and hit close to .250 with a middling on-base percentage. Again, nothing crazy but to pick that up on the waiver wire for free? You have to jump on it if you’re a rebuilding team that plans on making a push next season.

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Brunswick commissioner accused of and denies meddling in health department decisions

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Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department's handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department’s handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY –– At least two Brunswick County Board of Education members believe Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes intervened in a February school-related health department decision by pressuring the health and human services director to back off school closure determinations.

The matter colors how the school board views the health department, prompting mistrust and discomfort that lingers today, given the department’s alleged willingness to bend to political pressure.

Both Sykes and Brunswick County deny any impropriety and insist no change in procedure occurred.

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

The matter remains relevant, important enough that the school board is willing to potentially risk its federal funding for school nurses by holding up a memorandum of agreement renewal with the health department past its Wednesday due date to squeeze in a new provision: All future recommendations must be in writing.

What happened?

On the heels of the largest statewide cluster reported at the time in Town Creek Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools was trying to adjust to a return to in-person instruction at the beginning of the year after a two-week remote-only start.

Information about Covid’s impact and transmission among young people in a school setting was scarce.

BCS was hit with a cascade of closures –– each lasting as little as 10 days to as long as 20. It shuttered Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary, Union Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, North Brunswick High, and South Brunswick High all within a three-week timeframe. Each closure was prompted by the county health department’s identification of a cluster among students at each campus, defined as a link between five or more positive cases.

The pressure from overworked parents and pending legislation to keep the schools open was palpable.

As school was preparing to let out on Friday, Feb. 19, the district announced a two-week closure of South Brunswick High School. The following Monday, commissioner Sykes placed at least two impassioned calls to two school board members, herself prompted by emails and calls from upset parents.

“She called me on the phone and was upset, very upset about quarantine activity,” school board member David Robinson remembered. Sykes told Robinson the district was making some sort of administrative error in closing the schools. “She had me convinced we had a problem,” he said.

School board member Gerald Benton had been fielding parent emails, letting them know the district was compelled to follow the health department’s recommendations. Sykes called Benton, angry about the emails and the SBHS closure. As the county commissioners’ appointee on the health board, Sykes told Benton she had a health board committee meeting within the next 45 minutes where she would see health and human services director David Stanley and would make him “do something about it,” Benton remembered.

Two hours later, Benton said he got a call from school superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates, who relayed unexpected news.

Stanley had called the superintendent and told him he was reversing the decision made just days prior on his department’s recommendation to close SBHS. The health department would also stop sharing closure decisions with the school district altogether, according to Benton’s recollection of his call with Oates, confirmed by Oates through a spokesperson.

No reason was given for the decisions, Oates said. Dismayed, the superintendent asked for the decisions in writing.

A watered-down version of the verbal notice arrived via email the next day, Feb. 23. Notably, it did not include any word on rescinding the SBHS closure. “Ultimately, decisions on school operations reside with Brunswick County Schools,” Stanley’s email to Oates –– which BCC’d the county commissioners –– concluded.

Since the notice, the health department has taken a more passive approach, school officials said.

Six months passed from the incident before a department representative appeared before the school board again and the department never recommended another school closure (Oates said he doesn’t recall there being a significant event after the SBHS closure that would have warranted similar guidance out of the health department, as Covid-19 trends were on the decline). The district did continue to receive guidance on Covid-19 outbreaks within the schools, Oates said.

Despite repeated requests to explain why –– most recently under direct questioning at a school board meeting last month –– health officials have never provided the reason that prompted the abrupt Feb. 22 communication. At the August school board meeting, when asked if he knew what happened and why Stanley suddenly withdrew recommendations from the school district, health services director Cris Harrelson said he didn’t know and turned to staff members in the audience to ask if they did (Stanley is Harrelson’s boss).

Asked specifically what prompted the February change, county spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said, “There were no changes in our procedures from Brunswick County’s end,” and redirected questions about operating procedures to the school district.

The county health department provides Covid-19 guidance to the school district, Kascsak explained, the authority ultimately responsible for making operational decisions.

“[The school district’s] decisions might factor in the health department’s guidance along with other needs such as their known staffing levels, resources, and any concerns among their staff, students, and parents,” she wrote in a statement. “Again, this process is the same one the health department has followed throughout the pandemic, and staff are not aware of any directives that changed this course of action in February or any other time.”

County chairman Randy Thompson said his understanding is the public health department only provides guidance to the school district.

“No action by me or the County Board of Commissioners has occurred to stop guidance being provided to the school system or any citizen of our great county,” Thompson wrote in an email.

Commissioner Mike Forte said if there was evidence the health department was interfered with, the school board should have already presented it.

Still tense

School board member Steven Barger, who said he can’t recall getting a call from Sykes or Oates that day, said he considers the health department’s recommendations tantamount to directives, given state officials’ repeated calls to follow established health guidelines.

“I’m willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions we make, but I’m not willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions another agency makes who’s supposed to be making recommendations to us based on their expert GFN,” he said, speaking to the importance of being able to transparently determine where a directive is coming from.

Barger trusts the health department’s expertise but supports his board’s move to get future recommendations in writing. “When I don’t trust the health department is when we get a recommendation over the phone, and then they turn around and say, ‘Oh, we had no part in that,’” Barger said.

In general, Barger and other board members take issue with Sykes’ involvement and public opposition to school-related decisions.

Robinson said especially after the February incident, Sykes has immersed herself in school board matters. “She has been a thorn in the school board since at least I have gotten on the board,” he said. “She will quickly blast us in public, but when we try to work with her, there’s no interest in doing that.”

At a June North Brunswick Republican Club Meeting, accompanied by school board member Robin Moffitt (the lone member to vote against masks in August), Sykes and Moffitt shared concerns about critical race theory and sex education. Sykes threatened to “shut down” the county’s public schools and make them charter schools, according to a witness’ account of the meeting.

The commissioner did not return a request to comment. However, a public records request shows Sykes forwarded Port City Daily’s questions and the county’s response to them to fellow commissioners, county staff, school board members, both health directors, the founder of the local charter schools, and a local conservative radio host. In the Aug. 19 email, Sykes wrote (in bold) she had “never given direct orders” to anyone, especially the health director. She acknowledged she’s disagreed with Stanley on several issues but added her role on the health board did not equate to having any authority.

The commissioner also denied being part of an organized group that has protested the school board’s recent meetings. “I am not [part of the group], however, I do agree with them,” she wrote. Recent protested issues include opposition mask-wearing and keeping board-led prayer, which the board quietly dropped in April under a legal threat.

Sykes’ email included an actionable request: she sought a private meeting with two commissioners, two school board members and the superintendent, three representatives from the charter schools, both health directors, the county attorney, county manager, “and anyone else that will help cleanup [sic] this mess.”

Meetings that involve two members of two or more elected boards are frequent, as they allow officials to quickly move through and debate issues without public knowledge or scrutiny while avoiding triggering the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Responding to Sykes, Benton said he wasn’t interested unless the meeting was public. “The school system and Charters deserve the right to publicly explain the inconsistent or punitive actions your Health department has taken against us,” the school board member wrote. “The idea of two members meeting in secret to clean this up is disgusting and most certainly in bad faith with the idea of transparency.”

(Seperately, the leadership of the local charter schools penned a letter Aug. 30, accusing Harrleson of taking “inappropriate and ​​precipitous” actions associated with the health department’s recent Covid-19 control measure orders, served to two charters by deputies. Harrelson said the severity of the outbreak and the schools’ violations of quarantine procedure warranted the strong response.)

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

Benton told Sykes the school board did its job exposing the matter at the August meeting and made fruitless attempts to privately address the matter with Sykes and the county manager. “We need a reliable and consistent Health Department making recommendations based on science,” Benton wrote. “This department is either completely disorganized or are being politically pressured in their decision making.”

In a response to Benton, Sykes denied running interference in February. “The fact is there was no politics played with the Health Department, so I don’t know what you are talking about and yes, I do call David Stanley on issues that I get calls about daily,” she wrote.

After Barger responded to Sykes’ request stating his concerns with her approach with the school board, she responded stating she doesn’t think masks work –– “they are nasty and cause health problems,” she claimed, also acknowleding each person can wear one if they so choose. The school board voted 4-1 to mandate masks on Aug. 9 and Brunswick County required face-coverings in county buildings on Aug. 26.

The meeting could bring the parties together to unify the county, she wrote. It never happened.


Send tips and comments to Johanna F. Still at johanna@localdailymedia.com

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