Messi stuns again, plus the Cubs’ surprise surge

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Good morning! Get on the Cubs bandwagon before it’s full.

While You Were Sleeping

Lionel Messi outpaces the hype

It is hard to imagine a better start for Lionel Messi’s MLS career. When he agreed to join Inter Miami, we saw a full-channel marketing push for an aging superstar coming to America, with the country’s hopes of a soccer-filled future seemingly riding on his performance.

He’s lived up to it — and more.

He scored two more goals last night in a bonkers Inter Miami win, including this insanity to tie it in the 85th minute:

Inter is on to the Leagues Cup quarterfinals with the win. The club has not lost since the arrival of Messi — who now has seven goals in four matches.

Hot and Not

The Cubs are coming

Entering this year, no one gave the Cubs much of a chance to compete. They had talent, but this roster was two or three years away from contending. And yet here we are with 50 games left, talking about a division title.

The Cubs are the hottest team in baseball right now, winners of five of their last six and owners of a 16-7 record in the second half. I found Sahadev Sharma’s piece from yesterday instructive about the Cubs’ rise. Two takeaways:

  • Once middling, the Cubs’ offense has turned prolific, specifically thanks to Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ. Those three have combined for 20 homers since the break. The team has scored 10-plus runs six times in that stretch.
  • Moreover, the Cubs’ plate discipline has been heroic. Their hitters see an average of 4.05 pitches per plate appearance, best in baseball. They’re pushing starters out of the game faster and grinding into opposing bullpens.

They’re just 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central, but have a staggering +75 run differential … while Milwaukee’s sits at -8. Who had three NL Central teams possibly making the playoffs, and none of them being the Cardinals? If you say yes, you’re lying.

Also: You know who’s not hot? The Angels, who have lost every single game since the trade deadline … when they went all in to make the playoffs, hoping to keep Shohei Ohtani. The proverbial horse is very much dead here, but it’s wild this just keeps happening.

The Angels are 10 1/2 games back in the division and seven games out of a playoff spot. Time runs short. Maybe we should start wondering about Ohtani’s free agency destination again.


Thomas falls short
Justin Thomas needed one more shot. A solid performance at the Wyndham Classic this weekend wasn’t enough to land him in the top 70 of the FedEx Cup standings, meaning he will miss the playoffs. He finished 71st. Ouch. There’s still a slight possibility he could make the Ryder Cup squad, though.

‘It’s a sick joke’
Yesterday morning, USWNT legend Megan Rapinoe played in her final World Cup game. She called the final twist — booting a penalty kick over the crossbar — a “sick joke” as she reflected honestly on the end of her career.

More news:

Feedback Loop

Pulse readers love mountain football


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I did not peg us for a big John Denver crowd, but here we are. A quick breakdown of the surprising results from yesterday’s Pulse Poll:

What’s your new favorite conference “rivalry”?

  • Colorado-West Virginia (The John Denver Classic): 49.7%
  • Oregon-Rutgers (Phil Knight vs. Scarlet Knights): 16.7%
  • Arizona-UCF (The New Friends Bowl): 10.5%
  • Indiana-Washington (The Michael Penix Jr. Bowl): 5%
  • Other: 18.1%

We also asked for write-in results, which yielded some bangers:

  • The Apparel Bowl: Maryland (Under Armour) vs. Oregon (Nike)
  • The Trojan War: Michigan State-USC
  • The John Wooden Bowl: Purdue-UCLA
  • The No Way You Can (Easily) Get There From Here Rivalry: Oregon-Penn State
  • The Lakers Go West Game: Minnesota-UCLA

And shout out to whoever wrote in Middlebury-Williams. Thank you, everyone, for voting.

Pulse Picks

The worst conference realignment move is somehow worse than you thought. Yes, it involves Rutgers — and a mountain of debt.

We do have content about on-field college football, too. This one is interactive: How hopeful are you about your team’s upcoming season? Cast your vote in the Hope-O-Meter survey.

I loved this: Zack Meisel talked to Guardians radio man Tom Hamilton, who turned into a prize-fight announcer during Saturday night’s bout between José Ramírez and Tim Anderson. “Down goes Anderson!” was so good.

Cade Cunningham is the perfect international player, and it was on display this week at Team USA’s scrimmages. So why isn’t he on the team? The answer is painfully familiar.

Sam Vecenie has an early 2024 NBA Mock Draft this morning. Interesting to me: Three of the top five picks are from the G League Ignite. Also, Bronny James checks in as a second-rounder.

The Harry Kane-Bayern saga is still unresolved. Adam Crafton delivers an insightful report from a weird day at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where Kane scored four goals and — maybe — said goodbye.

It was so good to see Simone Biles back, looking like herself. Kalyn Kahler has a great story about Biles’ journey back from having the twisties at the Olympics to looking unstoppable this weekend.

(Photo: Quinn Harris/ Getty Images)

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