San Francisco Giants v New York Mets

MLB hands out first lifetime ban for PED use to Mets P Jenrry Mejia

Mets P Jenrry Mejia played one full season in Major League Baseball, notching 28 saves in 63 appearances in 2014 while putting up a 3.73 ERA and 1.48 WHIP and striking out 98 batters in 93.2 innings. But his career was subsequently derailed by failed drug tests, the second of which cost him a 162-game suspension per MLB’s PED rules. Now, the 26-year-old pitcher is the answer to a trivia question: the first player to be given a lifetime ban by MLB for a third failed drug test.

News of the lifetime ban came on Friday, after Mejia’s latest failed PED test — his third in the last year. Mejia tested positive for boldenone, which is used by athletes to increase muscle mass. He can apply to commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement after a year, but even if he is reinstated he would have to sit out at least two years before returning to a major league roster.

The Mets issued a statement, saying they were “deeply disappointed” by Mejia’s latest violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and that they “fully support MLB’s policy toward eliminating performance enhancing substances from the sport. As per the Joint Drug Program, we will have no further comment on this suspension.”

Mejia also issued a statement, through the Major League Baseball Players Association, which read, “I know the rules are the rules, and I will accept my punishment, but I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system.”

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Google begins rolling out Marshmallow Android Wear update, includes speaker support

Android Wear users should expect to receive an update on their watches in the coming weeks, as Google has begun the roll out of the Marshmallow update. Among the key features included with the latest version of the operating system is speaker support for devices that have a built-in speaker.

The announcement came earlier today in a post on the Official Android Blog. In addition to speaker support, the update adds additional wrist gestures that allow users additional hands-free functionality and being able to use your voice to send messages in apps including Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat and WhatsApp.

The speaker support adds the ability to make and take calls on the watch via Bluetooth and listen to audio/video messages using apps like Glide. As of today, the Android Wear watches with built-in speakers are the Huawei Watch and ASUS ZenWatch 2 (49mm), although more will be released in the future.

Here’s the full changelog from Google’s blog post:

  • Navigate your watch with new gestures. Scrolling up and down your card stream is as simple as flicking your wrist. Starting today you can also expand a card, bring up your apps, or return home to your watch face with a push, lift or shake. You’ll be able to stay connected to what’s important, while keeping your phone (or other hand) in your pocket.
  • Send more messages with just your voice. With Android Wear, you’ve always been able to get answers to spoken questions. Now you can also use your voice to send messages from apps like Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Running late for lunch? Just say “OK Google, Send a WhatsApp message to Nathan: I’ll be right there.”
  • Make calls and listen to messages with speaker support. Screening calls from your wrist is a nice convenience that comes with Android Wear. Thanks to speaker support, you can now make and take calls over Bluetooth. And you can listen to audio/video messages with apps like Glide. All you need is a watch with a speaker, which today includes the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2 (49mm).

Google says the update is rolling out to all Android Wear devices over the next few weeks. To check for the update, head into your watch’s Settings menu, tap About, then System Updates.

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The battle by the bay: Super Bowl 50 preview — Broncos vs. Panthers

In what seems to be becoming a trend, for the third straight season the top seeds in both the AFC and NFC are playing in the Super Bowl, but this time neither the Patriots nor Seahawks are in the game. This time around, it’s the Denver Broncos taking on the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in what could be the final game for future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning.

The teams took different routes in the conference championships to get to the Super Bowl. The Broncos squeaked by the Patriots by a 20-18 score, while the Panthers didn’t have trouble disposing of the Cardinals, winning by a 49-15 margin, with the defense having a stellar performance by intercepting Cardinals QB Carson Palmer four times.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl 50, it’ll have to be a low-scoring game for the Broncos to have a chance because they can’t keep up offensively with a Panthers team that has scored 38, 31 and 49 points in its last three games, respectively. A low-scoring game is a possibility, with two of the best defenses in the league battling each other. The Broncos will have to hold down Panthers QB Cam Newton like they did to Patriots QB Tom Brady two weeks ago in the AFC Championship.

On offense, the Panthers have the clear advantage at quarterback and tight end, while it’s closer at running back and wide receiver, with Panthers  RB Jonathan Stewart likely giving them the slight advantage, and the Broncos receivers a batter group than the Panthers’.

I think the defenses will win out and it’ll be a fairly low-scoring game, but I expect the Panthers to win it, 30-20, giving Newton his first Super Bowl title.

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Microsoft buys popular Android and iOS keyboard SwiftKey

Microsoft hasn’t had much success through the years in the mobile war against rivals Google and Apple so it is trying to compete by buying popular Android and iOS apps in recent months. Its latest acquisition: SwiftKey, one of the most popular keyboards on the two biggest mobile operating systems.

The announcement was made in blog posts on both companies’ websites. On its blog, Microsoft says the purchase of SwiftKey, which is known for its ability to predict what a user will type based on their history, “supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud.” Microsoft says SwiftKey estimates that its users have saved “more than 100,000 years in combined typing time” and “nearly 10 trillion keystrokes” in more than 100 languages using the keyboard’s predictive capability since it launched for Android devices in 2010 and iOS less than two years ago.

In their blog post, SwiftKey co-founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock credited the app’s success to its userbase and thanked “the awesome team” that works on the app, who Reynolds and Medlock call “the heart of our company.” The founders promise that SwiftKey will continue to be available, for free, on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store, and that “they are as committed as ever to improving [their apps] in new and innovative ways.”

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

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MLB Hot Stove: Mets sign Cespedes to 3-year, $75M contract

One of the last remaining big fish on MLB’s free agent market has been reeled in — and he’s staying with the team he helped lead to the playoffs last season. OF Yoenis Cespedes has agreed to a three-year deal with the Mets valued at $75 million, with an opt-out clause available to him after the 2016 season.

In recent days, the Nationals were considered among the leading contenders to Cespedes, and they reportedly offered him a five-year contract worth $100 million. He potentially turned down more money because he wanted to return to New York, but if he has a big season and opts out of the deal, he could be in for an even bigger payday next winter. If he does opt out after this season, he will be paid $27.5 million. The contract also includes a full no-trade clause.

Keeping Cespedes is a boost to the offense to help provide support for one of the best starting rotations in the majors that includes young SPs Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard.

Cespedes played the second half of last season with the Mets, after the Tigers sent him to Queens at the trade deadline. In 57 games with the Mets, he hit .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBI, almost singlehandedly propelling them to an NL East title and their first World Series appearance since 2000.

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My NFL Picks: Conference Championship weekend, including Patriots at Broncos and Cardinals at Panthers

We’re down to the NFL’s final four, and the top two seeds in each conference have made it to the Conference Championship games. After this weekend, we’ll know the two teams participating in Super Bowl 50, with the Patriots still alive to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

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No. 2 seed New England Patriots (-3.0) (12-4, AFC East champions) at No. 1 seed Denver Broncos (12-4, AFC West champions) 

The Sunday doubleheader begins with the AFC battle, featuring Patriots QB Tom Brady facing Broncos QB Peyton Manning for the 17th time in their careers, the fifth time in the playoffs. This time the matchup seems different than in the past, with Brady still at the top of his game and Manning no longer the player he once was. Although the Patriots beat the Chiefs by seven points last week, the game wasn’t as close as the score makes it appear. On the other side, the Broncos barely escaped with a 23-16 win last week over a Steelers team that was missing key offensive players.

The Patriots have a clear advantage in the passing game, with Brady throwing to the likes of WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski. The Broncos had a number of dropped passes by their receivers last week when Manning was able to get the ball to them. A telling stat from this season is that Brady threw more touchdowns in Denver (3) than Manning did (1), despite only playing one game at Manning’s home stadium. If the Broncos have a chance to win the game, it would be with their defense, which was fourth best in the league during the regular season. It’ll be tough to stop the Patriots offense, which is finally close to full strength after dealing with a number of injuries over the last couple of months.

This game is in Denver, but I don’t think home-field advantage will come into play in this one; the Patriots will win this game, and easily cover the three-point spread in what could be Manning’s final game with the Broncos — and perhaps the final game of his career.

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No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals (13-3, NFC West champions) at No. 1 seed Carolina Panthers (-3.0) (15-1, NFC South champions) 

The Panthers host the NFC Championship game after going 15-1 during the regular season and beating the Seahawks a week ago. They are led by the probable league MVP, QB Cam Newton. The Cardinals needed overtime — and a lucky coin toss — to beat the Packers last week and make it to this game.

Like the Patriots, the Panthers have a clear advantage at quarterback, with Newton over the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer, who threw two interceptions last week but could have easily had another throw or two picked off. The Cardinals’ biggest advantage in this matchup is in its receiving core. WR Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver in the game, with Panthers TE Greg Olsen the biggest receiving threat on his team. In the running game, Cardinals RB David Johnson had a couple big games late in the regular season, although he had just 35 yards on 15 attempts against the Packers. Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart returned to action last week after having not played since Week 14; in his return, he ran 19 times for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 59-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Both teams have good defenses, with the Panthers finishing the regular season ranked sixth in the league, and the Cardinals finishing as the eighth best.

Like with the AFC game, I’m going with the favorite in this one. I expect the Panthers to win the game and, like the Patriots, cover the three-point spread.

If my picks verify, it’ll set up a Super Bowl 50 rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots beat the Panthers in Carolina’s only appearance to date in the big game. We’ll know by the end of the night Sunday if this rematch comes to fruition.

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How to get Amazon Prime for 25% off this weekend

To celebrate the Golden Globe awards won by its original series Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon is knocking more than 25% off the price of Amazon Prime for this weekend. Normally $99, you can get a year of Prime for just $73 (for the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards). Amazon is also streaming both seasons of Mozart in the Jungle for free for non-Prime members this weekend in celebration of its awards.

The benefits of an Amazon Prime membership include free two-day shipping (and reduced overnight shipping), free streaming of millions of songs with Prime Music, free streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video, unlimited photo storage, free Kindle books each month, and exclusive sale and coupon offers for Prime members.

You can sign up for your discounted Prime membership here.

The sale price, which is valid for new customers only, expires at 11:59pm PT on Sunday night, January 17.