The Highlight Reel

The Biggest Plays, Videos and News in Sports

Bruins: Rumored Trade With Toronto Involves Kessel, Kaberle

According to a report by Bob McKenzie of TSN.ca, the Boston Bruins have offered potential restricted free agent winger Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Tomas Kaberle and the seventh overall pick in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.

Kessel does carry a couple of red flags, most notably the surgery on his shoulder that could sideline him for the start of the 2009-10 season. Another is his aforementioned impending free agency, which means any team can present Kessel with an offer sheet, which the Bruins or Maple Leafs could match or let him go for conditional draft picks.

This trade does not make much sense for the Maple Leafs and GM Brian Burke, unless the Bruins are also sending additional draft picks and/or prospects. Kaberle is a premier puck-moving defenseman who could be a No. 1 on many teams.

It’s unlikely Burke would let Kaberle, along with a top-10 draft pick, go for a player who might not play a full season for his team, or might not play for them at all. Even with this offer, the most likely scenario is that Kessel re-signs with the Bruins with a deal similar to the one David Krejci signed not too long ago.

Kessel, 21, enjoyed a breakout season for the Bruins in 2008-09, scoring 36 goals in just 70 games and compiling a +23 rating. He survived testicular cancer in 2007, which earned him the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, and battled mononucleosis this past season.

Clearly, the kid is no stranger to adversity. Playing under the bright lights and intense scrutiny of Toronto likely wouldn’t faze him much. But considering the package the Bruins are asking for- and that Kessel isn’t exactly Burke’s type of player- it seems unlikely that this exact trade would take place.

But if it does, the Bruins will be in a position to own two top-tier defensemen and add another high draft pick to their deep, young squad.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anxiety Becoming a Prominent Issue Among Major League Ballplayers

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

It’s highly unlikely that social anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by irrational nervousness toward big social situations and physical symptoms like muscle tension and increased heart rate, only started manifesting itself in professional baseball players within the last 25 years. We don’t know too much about the condition nowadays, let alone earlier in the 20th century when it might as well have not even existed.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen an alarming number of established major league talents falter to almost career-threatening levels. Today’s MLB.com article by Doug Miller makes light of the situation.

Royals ace Zack Greinke almost let social anxiety ruin his career. He failed as a Major Leaguer after carrying the pressure of becoming a top-shelf pitcher and letting the anxiety crumble around him. But he made it back in 2008 and showed he still had the potential to deliver as a frontline starter.

This season, after learning to cope with his anxiety and be more comfortable around groups of people, Greinke has established himself as one of the elite starters in the game with a 9-3 record, 1.90 ERA and 111 strikeouts, making him the odds-on favorite to start for the American League in the All-Star Game.

There are, however, cases of anxiety popping up in baseball this season that has made baseball take further notice of the condition. Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene has been hitting around .200 since the 2008 season, and he has let it eat away at him to the point where the Cardinals had to place him on the disabled list because of anxiety.

Dontrelle Willis of the Tigers is another example. A former Cy Young candidate, Willis has shown no imminent sign of the form he had in 2005, when he won 22 games for the Florida Marlins. The Tigers also placed him on the DL with anxiety issues earlier this season.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds returned from the disabled list, also as a result of anxiety, Wednesday night. He had been suffering through bouts of anxiety and depression since losing his father at 52 over the summer.

It seems pretty obvious now that this is an issue baseball executives will have to monitor more closely. Players earning derisive reputations as “head cases”- Gavin Floyd, Milton Bradley and Rickie Weeks come to mind- could be underachieving at the major league level because of this condition or something like it. It’s great to see that mental disorders like anxiety are finally starting to be combated, because it’s likely something that has always plagued professional athletes.

Despite whatever fans may say, playing a sport in front of tens of thousands of people can have a profound effect on a player’s nervous system, especially if the fear of failure has already manifested itself inside him. The more we take notice of anxiety disorders, the better off MLB and its players will be this season and for years to come.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celtics: What Will They Really Do With Rajon Rondo?

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

Tuesday was an unexpectedly busy day for the NBA, which garnered several headlines leading into this Saturday’s draft. The Spurs traded for Richard Jefferson and the Timberwolves moved Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the fifth overall pick, giving them four in the first round this year. But the most intriguing story of Tuesday was about a trade that didn’t happen.

The original report came from Yahoo! that the Celtics had offered the Detroit Pistons Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen for Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey. The rumor sent buzz for the Celtics skyrocketing, and called for an almost immediate press conference. Of course, the Boston media always feels entitled to an explanation for rumors of this magnitude.

Celtics President and GM Danny Ainge was quick to debunk the notions that the Celtics were trying to deal Rondo, but made it clear that the Celtics love Rondo as much as one would expect:

What’s clear from Ainge’s comments is the speculation that arose from the trade rumor, like the dissatisfaction with Rondo’s character and work ethic (he apparently showed up late to a playoff game against the Magic) or his contract situation, is merely just speculation.

Like any great GM, Ainge would only make such a drastic move as trading two core players if he feels the Celtics will improve as a result of it.

But what’s also clear is that the Celtics are not ruling out the possibility of a major trade in the future. Ainge doesn’t see anything big happening this off-season, but what they will do between now and the 2010-11 season is still up in the air.

Rondo is set to become a free agent after the 2009-10 season, joining perhaps the greatest free agent class in the history of sports. If the Celtics do not extend Rondo’s contract in the next year, his name will be added to the likes of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudamire, Chris Bosh, Steve Nash, and yes, Allen as well.

Allen’s contract expires after 2010, making him the most likely player to be moved. The Celtics will remain in control of Kevin Garnett’s contract through 2012 and Paul Pierce through 2011, owing them over $40 million combined during the 2010-11 season. This will make signing Rondo to an extension very difficult for the Celtics, especially if he commands a top-tier salary.

But with the way Rondo has improved over the last two seasons, it’s looking like he’s on his way to a hefty payday. After helping the Celtics win their first championship in 22 years in 2007-08, Rondo took his game to another level in 2008-09. His points, rebounds, assists, and percentages all improved, and he averaged a triple double (16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.8 assists) in 41.2 minutes per game during the playoffs. And he’s still only 23.

Needless to say, Rondo will be seeking a raise over the $2.6 million he’ll make in 2009-10. To reward his movement into the upper echelon of NBA point guards, the Celtics will need to dish out some serious dough. Can they afford it?

If you ask me, keeping Rondo in Boston for his prime years would be worth moving Garnett within the next year. That may mean sacrificing another championship run, but I think it’s still worth it to keep Rondo in a Celtics uniform for the long-term.

It’s pretty clear that Garnett is beginning to decline in terms of both health and performance, which is pretty normal for a man of his age and build.

The window of opportunity for the Celtics’ “Big Three” is closing quickly, and soon enough they will have to look toward the future. That said, it wouldn’t be easy for the Celtics to find a taker for Garnett’s enormous $21 million-plus contract that doesn’t expire until 2012.

But if he can prove to still be able to remain healthy for a full season, it would be tough for a contending team in need of a veteran presence to turn down a man of Garnett’s ability and experience.

But I digress…If- and it’s a pretty big if– the Celtics were open to moving Garnett and could find a deal that works, I would be all for it- provided the main motive is to retain Rondo on the roster.

Rondo doesn’t shoot the ball very well at all; it’s always been his achilles heel. He’ll never be an elite scorer at the point guard position like Chris Paul or Deron Williams.

But he more than makes up for his shooting woes with deft quickness to the hoop, magician-like hands, and tremendous determination and confidence. He has a rare combination of skills that could make him an elite point guard even without great shooting ability.

He may already be there; I personally wouldn’t quite call him elite yet but he’s already at the All-Star level and still has plenty of time to improve. I think all he needs is to develop a reliable three-point shot and he can easily be mentioned among the likes of Paul and Williams.

He can already do everything else with his hands at a very high level. He quickly became my favorite Celtics player and arguably the most exciting player to watch since he came into the league in 2006.

It would pain me as a Celtics fan to see Rondo running all over the place, never tiring or letting up, always looking for the best possible pass or pestering an opponent for a steal, constantly wreaking havoc on the opposing team’s game plan, in a different uniform. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if a team like Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, or- gasp!– the Lakers were interested in his services come 2010.

Whatever the Celtics do with Rondo, I’m just hoping it doesn’t come devoid of benefits. Trading him would be disappointing, but would also only happen if Ainge feels the Celtics would be better off doing it, and the Celtics would likely end up with some nice players and/or draft picks in return.

Letting Rondo walk to free agency and join another team would be extremely painful to watch, especially if he dons a yellow and purple jersey.

At this point, I would be open to seeing Garnett move elsewhere in order to make room for Rondo to stay here for the future. He’s the most exciting, talented young point guard the Celtics have had in years, and without him for the future the Celtics could be headed straight back to the league basement by 2012.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Sox: Dice-K’s Mysterious Season Continues on the DL

610x

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 2009 season is one that, so far, has been mostly on the DL- not necessarily the disabled list, but more like the down-low.

The “injury” that landed him on the disabled list for the second time over the weekend remains a mystery. The ability to work out of jams that was the hallmark of his great 2008 season has mysteriously disappeared. And exactly how long will the Boston Red Sox be without their Japanese star? That remains a mystery as well.

But what is certainly not a mystery to anyone who has seen Dice-K pitch this season is that he is not the same pitcher who won 18 games with a 2.90 ERA just last season. His walk rate is actually lower (4.6 per nine innings) than in 2008 (5.0), and his strikeout rate is about the same. The difference is he’s getting hit much, much harder.

Upon first glance, it would be easy to say Dice-K is falling victim to bad luck in 2009. His opponents are batting an absurdly high .443 against him on balls in play, almost 1.5 times the league average. But his opponent’s OPS is 1.091, a far cry from the paltry .645 OPS against him in 2008.

His opponents’ 101 total bases so far in 2009 are almost at the same amount he allowed all last season (197), an alarming total considering his walks have not gone up. His 59 hits allowed in just 35 innings, which averages out to just over 15 per nine innings, has to be the most eye-popping statistic.

Dice-K has not looked like his familiar self all season. He had already gained a reputation for at times being frustrating to watch, but was tolerated because his style translated to success. This season, his mistakes are hurting time big-time.

Manager Terry Francona is aware of the apparent fatigue in Dice-K’s arm, but is still baffled as to how out-of-whack he truly is this season. He expects a long recovery time for his No. 3 starter.

“We’re going to have to figure this out. We have a lot of work ahead of us trying to get him back to being Daisuke,” Francona told John Barone of RedSox.com. “We’ll try to do what’s in his best interest, and to be honest, I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”

The light at the end of the tunnel for the Red Sox is that they can afford to give Dice-K a two-month vacation. It’s unlikely he’s suffering from anything more than fatigue, so substantial rest seems to be the best thing for him at this point.

The Red Sox can afford to do this because, of course, they have John Smoltz taking the mound for his season debut on Thursday against the Washington Nationals. They can seamlessly move him into the rotation without changing it.

More importantly, the Red Sox will not have to employ a six-man rotation, which may seem like a good idea for giving pitchers extra rest but comes with the risk of disrupting the routines of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and the rest.

A healthy Smoltz will more than likely provide the Red Sox with an above-average bottom-of-the-rotation starter. And let’s not forget, the Sox also have this kid named Buchholz pitching pretty well down at Pawtucket.

The Dice-K injury probably only makes it more likely that the Red Sox will deal one or more of Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz to acquire depth in areas of need, most notably shortstop. With David Ortiz swinging the bat very well recently (.333 with five home runs since June 5), they may not need to dish out a hefty package for someone like Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez after all.

I’m still holding out hope for a Penny-for-shortstop deal happening soon, so they can simultaneously improve at their weakest position and give Buchholz a chance to pitch in the major leagues. Until then, everything is just speculation.

But as long as Smoltz pitches well, the AL East-leading Red Sox can rest easier knowing the weakest link in their rotation is recharging for the stretch run without being too much of a detriment to the staff.

June 22, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Five Most Significant Draft Moments in Boston Celtics History

To say the Boston Celtics’ draft history is a storied one would be an enormous understatement. They have experienced agony and ecstasy, passed on future Hall-of-Famers and stolen others over five decades of selections. With this Saturday’s draft looming, it’s only appropriate to cover the five most significant moments in Celtics draft history.

Honorable mention: Selecting Paul Pierce in 1998; Passing on Kobe Bryant along with 12 other teams in 1996; the sudden death of 1987 top pick Reggie Lewis

5. Larry Bird Falls to Celtics at No. 6 in 1978 Draft

Larry Bird’s draft class is proof of how pivotal top selections can be. Even the Pacers passed on the Indiana State University star and French Lick native, who turned out to be one of the NBA’s all-time great players. Though this draft produced some other good players such as Maurice Cheeks and Reggie Theus, no 1978 draftee had nearly the career Bird had with the Celtics. Thirty-one years later, the decision of the first five teams to pass on Bird still stands as one of the great draft mistakes in league history.

4. Celtics Select John Havlicek with Last Pick of First Round of 1962 Draft

While the 1962 Draft produced several good players who had solid pro careers, only one from that class would end up in the Hall of Fame. John Havlicek scored 26395 points in his 16 NBA seasons- all with the Celtics- first in franchise history and 11th all-time.

Oh, did I mention the Celtics already had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn? And were coming off a fourth consecutive NBA championship? After adding Havlicek, they would go on to win six of the next eight titles. Havlicek carried the torch from Russell admirably, leading the Celtics to two more championships in the 1970s. As the subject of one of the NBA’s most famous calls (“Havlicek stole the ball!”), he’s engraved himself permanently in Celtics lore.

3. Celtics Miss Out on Tim Duncan in 1997 Draft Lottery

To their fans’ dismay, the biggest story of the Celtics’ 1996-97 season was where they would end up in the draft. They finished 15-67, giving them the second-best chance to land Wake Forest stud Tim Duncan with the first overall pick. It was clear that Duncan was a transcendent talent, which made the 1997 lottery one of the most exciting in NBA history.

Celtics fans’ hearts dropped as soon as the San Antonio Spurs, who finished 20-62, were revealed as the lucky recipients of Duncan’s services. The Celtics landed the third pick, with which they selected a young point guard named Chauncey Billups. Unfortunately, Billups lasted only 51 games in Boston, several years before reaching his full potential, as Rick Pitino traded him to Toronto for Kenny Anderson.

As for Duncan, he only went on to be one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game, winning four titles in 12 seasons with the Spurs. And at 32, he may not yet be done winning. It certainly would have been great for New Englanders to see Duncan assert his greatness in Celtic green.

2. Celtics Lose Out on Top Picks in 2007 Draft, Trade for Garnett and Allen

From one rough year to another, the Celtics also stunk ten years later, in 2007. The Celtics stumbled throughout the season to finish 24-58, again second in the draft lottery.

The imminence of the Celtics owning a top-two selection in the draft had the Boston media salivating over the likely prospect of landing Texas’ Kevin Durant with the second-overall pick. But the ping pong balls once again did not bounce Boston’s way, as the Celtics got saddled with pick no. five, the lowest possible pick they could have had.

President Danny Ainge traded that pick, Jeff Green, to Seattle for Ray Allen and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, a move that would pale in comparison to the massive five-for-one deal weeks later that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston.

We all know what happened next. The Celtics completed the biggest single-season turn-around in NBA history, winning 66 games on the way to their 17th NBA title.

I still enjoy imagining what the Celtics could have been had they ended up where they should have at no. 2. They might not yet have a championship, but a starting five of Durant, Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins looks great on paper.

1. The Death of Len Bias

In any sport, a first-round draft pick, especially one in the top three, is meant to turn around the fortunes of franchises. Len Bias did just that, unfortunately in a severely tragic way. It seems disrespectful to label Bias a “bust,” but the 23-year-old Maryland star’s shocking death after the 1986 NBA Draft stunned the nation and left the Celtics reeling for nearly two decades.

In April 1984, then-President and GM Red Auerbach traded guard Gerald Henderson along with cash considerations to the Seattle Supersonics for their 1986 first-round pick. It turned out that it would become the second-overall pick for the Bird-led Celtics, who had just defeated the Houston Rockets for their 16th NBA championship.

The reigning NBA champions, in the midst of another mini-dynasty, selected Bias, the 1986 ACC Player of the Year, who had been compared favorably to fellow ACC star Michael Jordan. Had Bias lived up to his big-time expectations, the Celtics could have won several more championships adding him to a team that included four future Hall-of-Famers.

Instead, Bias took his draft celebration down a dark path. He snorted an excessive amount of cocaine in his Maryland dorm, which led to his fatal heart attack less than 48 hours after being picked. The Celtics floundered through much of the 1990s after the original Big Three declined, and were left to wonder what Bias could have done for their franchise.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Sox Rumored To Be Interested In Pirates Shortstop Jack Wilson

The trade rumblings for the Boston Red Sox have steadily increased in recent weeks, mainly due to their surplus of starting pitching. But now that all of their potential starters are healthy and working, rumors of potential deals have begun to surface.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jack Wilson is the latest in the rumored possible acquisitions for Boston, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting.

It was a somewhat well-kept secret through April and May that the Red Sox had at least seven Major League-ready starters. But now that John Smoltz is healthy and rehabilitating at Pawtucket, it’s become quite apparent.

What has also become apparent is the Red Sox’s deficiencies in the field, particularly at the shortstop position. While presumptive starter Jed Lowrie has missed significant time with a wrist injury, the Red Sox have platooned Julio Lugo and Nick Green. The result has been less than spectacular.

Lugo and Green’s 14 combined errors this season have dragged the Red Sox all the way to the bottom of the American League in fielding percentage. For comparison’s sake, J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia have six errors between them.

Having that kind of a liability at arguably the most important defensive position on the field can cost a team games, and it already has for the Red Sox; remember Green’s throw that sailed into the stands at Seattle?

It can also cost you a World Championship; Sox fans need not forget that it was the defensive overhaul that sparked the 2004 Red Sox to become one of the league’s elite teams and end their World Series curse.

Now we come to the player in question: Pittsburgh’s Jack Wilson. In terms of defensive ability, the Red Sox would be receiving a major upgrade here. It is comparable to the defensive upgrade that Orlando Cabrera brought over Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.

The Red Sox have been asking around the clubhouse, most notably former Pirate Jason Bay, about Wilson’s abilities and character, and apparently they have heard enough to pursue the shortstop in a trade. It’s important for fans who aren’t familiar with National League players to understand that the Red Sox would be bringing in a solid defensive shortstop should they acquire Wilson.

The 31-year-old Wilson may not bring the flash-and-dash that Alex Gonzalez brought to the team in 2006, but he is certainly well above-average with the leather at short and could have a Gold Glove or two if he was a better hitter.

About his offense…He wouldn’t be an upgrade in that department. He certainly couldn’t be much worse than Lugo or Green has been, but Wilson is a career .269 hitter with much left to the imagination in terms of pop or speed. At best, he’s the same as Lugo or Green at the plate.

Another concern is Wilson’s recent injury problems. He’s already made one trip to the 15-day disabled list with a finger sprain. He’s also injured his knee, calf and shoulder, causing him to miss 95 games since 2008.

Those things aside, the Red Sox would be acquiring Wilson for his defensive prowess above all else. They can absorb his lack of offense as long as he plays the great defense he’s known for; they could not absorb the offensive woes of Lugo or Green with their defensive misgivings.

What’s most important at this point is that Wilson has proved to be a serviceable everyday player at the major league level, and would likely be the starter if he heads here. Lugo would still get occasional playing time but be replaced by Wilson in the late innings for defensive purposes.

Green would likely head back to the minors and be replaced with Smoltz, or possibly Buchholz. If Brad Penny is not involved in the trade talks that are apparently taking place, the Red Sox could employ a temporary six-man rotation. But a more likely result is to see Penny be traded.

Is Wilson worth Penny straight up? Or more importantly, do the Pirates need a player like Penny when it’s becoming more and more apparent that they once again won’t contend for anything this season? The answer to both of those questions is probably no, which means the Red Sox could dip into their farm system to acquire Wilson.

Penny is more likely to go to a contending NL team in need of a starting pitcher; the Cubs, Mets and Phillies immediately come to mind. And Buchholz is one of the top prospects in the game, and would be good enough as part of a package to lure a Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. So for Wilson to come to the Red Sox, it will take something else.

With the depth in their farm system, and the obvious need for a shortstop who can play consistent defense, the acquisition of Wilson looks more and more every day like a move the Sox ought to make.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Sox Fans Let A-Rod Have It

Just two innings earlier, Alex Rodriguez smashed the hopes of Red Sox fans who wished to see their team sweep the Yankees with his two-run double. But when A-Rod stepped back to the plate in the ninth to face Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox had rallied from a two-run deficit to take the 4-3 lead. So Sox fans naturally felt comfortable showering A-Rod with boos and a “YOU DID STE-ROIDS!” *clap* *clap* *clap-clap-clap* chant. Here’s a quick clip of the amusing chant (well, amusing for all non-Yankee fans):

June 12, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Sox Head to Philly On The Heels Of Thrilling Sweep Of Yankees

(C.J. Gunther/European Pressphoto Agency)

As C.C. Sabathia continued to mow down Red Sox hitters, working in all of his pitches and consistently hitting the mid-to-late 90s with his fastball, it looked more and more inevitable to Red Sox Nation that the Yankees may finally prevail after seven straight losses against Boston to begin the 2009 season. Brad Penny pitched a gem to maintain the 1-0 lead for the Red Sox, but that lead never felt comfortable, nor should it have.

Alex Rodriguez, who certainly felt due to inflict some damage on the Red Sox, silenced the Fenway faithful with his two-run double in the eighth inning that missed the center field bleachers by about three feet. A-Rod’s hard line drive felt like a cannon blast the way it broke open such a tight game in the late innings.

Even then, in the torrential downpours, the fans remained. But with the game being Red Sox-Yankees, they were pretty much obligated. And in one big inning, they were handsomely rewarded.

The Yankees’ bullpen, which had been taxed by the dismal outings of A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang earlier in the series, imploded with a chance to close the Red Sox out. Sabathia had been overpowering the Red Sox lineup, the one blemish before the eighth inning being David Ortiz’s fourth home run of the season.

But he simply ran out of pitches in the eighth, getting worked as hard as he had been all night by Dustin Pedroia, who drew a walk in an eleven-pitch at-bat, and J.D. Drew, who singled to begin the scoring rally.

Pedroias 11-pitch walk set the Red Sox's rally in motion.

Pedroia's 11-pitch walk set the Red Sox's rally in motion.

“I was just fighting,” Pedroia told Ian Browne of RedSox.com of his subtly game-changing walk. “I haven’t been feeling that well at the plate. Obviously, facing C.C., he’s one of the best in the game. I’m just trying to put a good at-bat together and hit the ball hard — just trying to find a way to get on base. That’s pretty much it.”

Yanked after 123 pitches, Sabathia could not finish what he started, and the bullpen could not save him. Alfredo Aceves took the ball to try and get to Mariano Rivera for the save chance, but he loaded the bases with a Kevin Youkilis single then allowed another hit to Jason Bay to tie the game at three.

The only out Aceves made was a sacrifice fly by Mike Lowell. J.D. Drew instinctively broke for home on Lowell’s shallow pop-fly knowing it would be very tough for center fielder Brett Gardner to make a strong throw in the treacherous rain, and scored easily. It was at that point that Fenway officially made the transition from agony to ecstasy.

“We get down by a couple, and then all of a sudden, Greenie gets the hit and Pedey has an extended at-bat and things happen like we’ve seen happen here before — good players doing some pretty special things in a pretty special place,” said manager Terry Francona. “It was electric. You could feel it.”

Sabathia took the tough-luck loss as Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 night to secure the sweep for the Red Sox. Boston is now 8-0 to start the season against the Yankees. They haven’t had this kind of win streak against New York to start the season since April 1912, days before the Titanic sunk. The sweep left them in first place in the AL East and the entire league at 36-24.

The Red Sox continue to assert their dominance over the Yankees this season, and also continue to dominate at Fenway Park, heading to Philadelphia with a 21-8 home record. And in a season where only two AL teams are over .500 away from home and the collective road record of the league is 180-242, home play is especially important.

The Red Sox will now take part in an exciting weekend for all of baseball as extended interleague play kicks off for the 2009 season. We got ourselves a taste of interleague action in May, which has become customary for Major League Baseball. But now the meat of the AL vs. NL schedule takes place, as has become a June tradition.

This weekend features some highly-anticipated matchups, including the New York Mets’ first trip to the new Yankee Stadium and the Bay-area showdown between Oakland and San Francisco at Petco Park. But the series that stands to be the most competitive and interesting- at least for east coast fans- is the three-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Boston and Philadelphia own the third-best and second-best records in baseball, respectively. The Phillies are 7-3 so far in June and are coming off two straight victories against the Mets.

Raul Ibanez has more home runs (21) and RBI (58) than Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Raul Ibanez has more home runs (21) and RBI (58) than Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

The Phillies have struggled at home (12-14) and achieved most of their success on the road (23-9). They are also dealing with key injuries, as starter Brett Myers and All-Star closer Brad Lidge are currently on the disabled list and won’t be back for this series.

The biggest surprise for the Phillies this season has to be left fielder Raul Ibañez, who signed a free agent contract in the winter. On a team that includes big-time hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley producing like the All-Stars they are, Ibañez has risen above them all.

His 21 home runs are the most in his career before the All-Star break and two off his total from last season. His career-high is 33, and he should easily eclipse that total this season barring an injury, even if and when he slows down. But that slow-down period I speak of has yet to happen for the veteran outfielder.

Rollins has been the biggest disappointment thus far for the Phillies, posting a .226 average and .596 OPS through 57 games. He hit well in the just-completed Mets series, though, going 4-for-13 with a home run and four RBI. He briefly hit sixth in the batting order and hit well there, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted it was a matter of sparking Rollins to assume his role as leadoff man and offensive catalyst.

“The only thing I was trying to do was give Jimmy a different look, a little different feel,” Manuel told Todd Zolecki of Phillies.com. “I also think Jimmy knows his hitting.”

Rollins and the rest of the Phillies have a tough challenge ahead of them tonight as Jon Lester takes the mound for the Red Sox. Lester has allowed one

Lester is returning to his 2008 form in recent starts.

Lester is returning to his 2008 form in recent starts.

run or fewer in three of his last four starts and compiled 23 strikeouts in his last 15 innings. He is beginning to consistently show the form that made him a breakout star in 2008.

His most recent outing against Texas was a near-perfect game that broke up in the seventh, but Lester completed the game allowing one run on 107 pitches to improve his record to 5-5. He will try to bring his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since April 24 as he faces a tough Phillies lineup, albeit one loaded with lefties.

The Phillies will send default No. 2 starter Joe Blanton to the mound. Blanton has also pitched well of late, allowing just four earned runs in his last 20 innings. He has not lost a decision since May 9 against Atlanta, and after a rough start his record stands at 4-3.

Both teams are hitting their stride in June after somewhat inconsistent starts to the season. The Red Sox’s rotation woes are beginning to settle into a groove, and the Phillies continue to mash the ball while ace Cole Hamels recovers from a disastrous start to the season.

Francona is always excited to return to Philadelphia, where he managed the Phillies from 1997 to 2000. But it’s even more exciting knowing his team is entering Philly for a potential World Series preview.

When asked by Jim Silverman of the Boston Herald about the upcoming series, Francona said, “It’ll be a fun series for the fans, but from our standpoint, it’s just another part of the grind to see if we’re good enough to be there at the end.”

June 12, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Big Papi Finally Coming Around For the Red Sox?

It’s still premature to deem any sort of triumphant return to glory official for David Ortiz. But the Boston Red Sox designated hitter has shown more signs of turning it around in the past ten days than he has through the first ten weeks of the season. He’s driving the ball to gaps, driving it to the opposite field, and most importantly, driving it out of the park.

Big Papi has two home runs in his last 13 at-bats after hitting just one through his first 193. He has six RBI in his last seven games, and has hit safely in each of them.

He lined his second home run of the season off the Rangers’ Kris Benson into the right-field seats in his strongest showing since moving to the sixth spot in the order. He had already shown signs of a turn-around by the time he hit that home run.

“That’s how you getting back to hitting balls and start hitting well, put a good swing on a ball,” Ortiz told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “Even though you don’t get the good luck, it will come.”

Then the real good sign came Tuesday against the Yankees, when he took a pitch from A.J. Burnett on the outside edge and drove it into the center field seats for his third home run of the season. And this one was a true bomb.

Like Ortiz’s first home run of the season, it was 400-plus feet and landed comfortably in the bleachers. But it was more of an opposite-field drive off a pitch that was almost off the plate, as opposed to something in his wheel-house.

This recent six-game snippet of success doesn’t guarantee that Ortiz is going to tear it up and have 20 home runs by the All-Star break. But a streak is a streak, and right now Big Papi is on a good one.

The home run off Burnett showed that he still has the ability to drive the ball out to the deep part of the park. He hit several deep fly ball outs in Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park that may have been home runs at Fenway, Yankee Stadium and several other ballparks.

Despite failing to homer in Detroit, Ortiz still delivered his share of production, shooting a long double into the gap in right-center to score two runners.

Again, Papi’s recent success still doesn’t mean he’s going to produce like the 2003-2007 Ortiz for the rest of the season. And in all honesty, it wouldn’t shock me or many others if he went right back to slumping horrendously. But considering he’s produced more in the last six games than he has pretty much all season, it’s reasonable to believe Big Papi is back.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yankees Come to Fenway A Much Different Team Than Last Meeting With Red Sox

teixeira-sabathia-burnett

The New York Yankees should almost be synonymous with “early-season struggles” these days. Their combined record in April since 2006 stands at 48-49, not a stellar figure for a team with as consistently deep a roster and high a payroll as them.

The Yankees’ 12-10 April record this season doesn’t look bad on the surface, but that included a three-game winning streak to close out the month. The three-game sweep of them at Fenway Park by the Boston Red Sox left them at 9-9 and looking for scapegoats.

But the Yankees are 25-14 since the last game of that series, and come into Fenway tonight in first place by one game and having won their last four series.

It’s not too much of a coincidence that the Yankees reversed their fortunes around the same time Alex Rodriguez returned from his hip injury. His presence in the lineup alone has proved to be a big help for Mark Teixeira, who hit 13 home runs in May after hitting just three in April, and leads the league with 18 bombs.

Perhaps more importantly for the Yankees is that the pitching has stabilized. C.C. Sabathia is 4-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his last six starts, one of which was a complete-game shutout at Baltimore on May 8. His presence at the top of the rotation is essential to the Yankee’s success, and he looks to have found himself after a rough April.

A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte have also delivered quality outings in recent weeks. Both pitched well enough against the Tampa Bay Rays to win the last two games of that series leading into tonight’s series opener.

Despite the Yankees’ correction of early-season struggles, the Red Sox also appear to have turned a corner at the top of their rotation. Josh Beckett, who takes the mound for the Red Sox tonight, has been dominant since allowing seven runs against the Rays on April 30.

Beckett is 4-0 in his last six starts with a 1.94 ERA. He has thrown over 110 pitches in each of his last five, but has shown no signs of wear or fatigue. His last start, in fact, was his most dominant of the season, as he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and ended up allowing two hits and two walks in seven-and-two-thirds innings.

Jon Lester also appears to be turning the corner after a wild start to his season. In his last two starts, Lester is 2-0 and has allowed two runs in 15 innings with 23 strikeouts. He made a bid for his second no-hitter in as many years last time out against Texas, but had to settle for the complete-game victory.

Though these two teams are not without their flaws, they seem to be correcting the major problems that plagued them in April and May, which is the main reason for their places at the top of the American League East standings. While the Blue Jays have fallen back to Earth and the Rays continue to underachieve, the Red Sox and Yankees continue to win games and build momentum for their legendary rivalry to take the stage once again.

Tonight’s series opener, which pits Beckett against Burnett, will obviously depend on the performance of the pitchers. To say the two struggled last time they faced each other would be an understatement; they combined to allow 16 earned runs in ten innings, in a game the Red Sox eventually won 16-11.

Considering how much better Burnett and Beckett have been in recent starts, it’s reasonable to assume a slobberknocker like that Apr. 25 game would not happen again. It seems more likely that tonight’s game would either be lop-sided or a pitcher’s duel.

Since we wanted it last time and didn’t get it, let’s hope we get the duel this time.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dwight Howard’s Top 10 Plays of the 2008-09 Season

Kobe was feeling a little lonely here…

Dwight Howard has played excellently this postseason and surprised many by leading the Orlando Magic past both the defending-champion Celtics and the LeBron James-led, No. 1-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. So it’s only fitting that he also gets props from the NBA by posting a top-10 video of his top plays of the season. The guy is a beast, ’nuff said.

June 4, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kobe Bryant’s Top 10 Plays of the 2008-09 Season

In honor of the NBA Finals, which tip off tonight in Los Angeles, I’m posting this video of the top ten plays of the season…From Kobe Bryant. Yes, the man is clearly good enough to fill up an entire video reel by himself, so sit back and enjoy!

June 4, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daily Duel: Evgeni Malkin vs. Henrik Zetterberg

It’s back! Daily Duel has returned, if only for today, to showcase two of the NHL’s biggest offensive stars going at it with their fists. Evgeni Malkin somehow avoided a stiffer punishment for his instigation of this battle with Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit at the end of game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. Clearly, Malkin’s aggression didn’t pay off for the Penguins in game two, who now trail the series two games to none.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boston Red Sox: What To Do With This Rotation?

(Photo courtesy of Boston.com)

John Smoltz is getting stronger and stronger in his return from shoulder surgery, most recently pitching five strong innings for Class A Greenville in a rehab start on Sunday. He will make the jump to AAA Pawtucket for a couple more starts before finally joining the Red Sox. His arrival will only add fuel to the burning question of the Red Sox’s 2009 season:

What to do with this surplus of quality starting pitching?

Clearly, something needs to be done. The Red Sox have a great problem on their hands, perhaps the best problem they could possibly have. They have five rotation spots, and seven quality pitchers who could fulfill those roles.

Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield decidedly have their spots locked up. The final spot has been occupied by Brad Penny thus far, but it would be hard to ensure he’d hold down that spot forever with Smoltz and Clay Buchholz waiting their turn.

Clay Buchholz has been dominating in the minor leagues.

Clay Buchholz has been dominating in the minor leagues.

Buchholz has been outstanding in the minors this season as he battles to earn a spot in the Boston rotation. He went 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in May, including coming within three outs of a perfect game. He would certainly face a much greater challenge in major league hitters, but Buchholz is nonetheless doing what he needs to do to pitch his way to the big leagues.

On just about any other team, Buchholz would easily lock down a rotation spot. But he happens to be on one of the deepest teams in baseball.

In his way is Brad Penny, who has pitched well as the No.5 starter. He allowed eight runs in three-plus innings in his second start against Baltimore, which inflated his current ERA (5.63) by over a run. Overall, seven of Penny’s ten appearances have been quality starts. Opponents are still hitting .310 against him, but he has walked only two in his last 24.1 innings.

Matsuzaka has struggled mightily this season, posting an 0-3 record and spending time on the disabled list. Dice-K is frequently frustrating to watch with his refusal to give in to hitters and throw the ball over the plate. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald expounds upon the magic act Matsuzaka put on in 2008, in which he held opponents to batting average under .200 with men in scoring position and hitless with the bases loaded.

But Matsuzaka has certainly earned himself a spot in the rotation. Despite his tendency to get himself into trouble more often than not, he has been able to get out of it, earning himself a 33-15 record in his first two big league seasons.

However, this season has been painful to watch for Matsuzaka, as the baserunners he has always allowed are scoring at an alarming rate. His ground-to-fly ratio is about 0.58:1, another very disturbing trend for a pitcher like Matsuzaka who has shown trouble keeping the ball in the park in the past.

Jon Lester struck out 12 in his last outing.

Jon Lester struck out 12 in his last outing.

A big positive is that the 1-2 punch of Beckett and Lester has shown signs of turning it around. After a laborious stretch of two starts each against the Rays and Yankees, Beckett has settled down in his last three starts, allowing just three earned runs in his last 22 innings. He has also thrown over 110 pitches in each of his last three starts, but has only shown signs of getting stronger.

Lester pitched brilliantly on Sunday against the Blue Jays in arguably his strongest start of the season. Despite only making it through six innings on 111 pitches, Lester struck out a career-high 12 and scattered three infield singles and three walks. The lone run he allowed came on a Vernon Wells sacrifice fly in the first inning. The strikeouts are certainly a great sign, but the Red Sox would probably be more satisfied seeing Lester get deeper into games.

After an excellent start to the season, Tim Wakefield has come back down to Earth, just like he always seems to do. He mixed eight brilliant innings against Toronto in with three rough outings, most recently unraveling against those same Blue Jays late in the fifth inning. Wakefield has been around long enough where Red Sox Nation knows what it’s going to get from him. All I would ask of him is to finish the season over .500.

With four spots in the rotation locked down (barring injury), it comes down to asking what the Red Sox do to consolidate this deep pitching staff. Before making any drastic moves, the Sox ought to give both Smoltz and Buchholz chances to pitch. Penny is no lock to stay healthy, as is Matsuzaka, so things still have a chance to work themselves out.

But what’s certain is that Buchholz has earned his chance. After pitching extremely poorly in 2008, he has come out blazing this season. He had an outstanding spring in hopes he would earn the fifth rotation spot, and has continued to pitch extremely well overall.

Smoltz is still a few rehab outings away from joining the Red Sox, but the veteran hurler clearly deserves a chance to see what he can still do in the big leagues. It’s unlikely his stuff has gone anywhere, so it becomes a matter of Smoltz making sure he’s 100 percent before joining the Red Sox, and remaining healthy once he is.

It likely won’t be until July when the Red Sox even think about making a move. But once that time comes, it’s also likely they’ll still have the same glaring holes: shortstop and designated hitter.

It’s too bad to have to deem David Ortiz a “hole” in the Red Sox lineup, but it’s gotten to that point. Through 178 at-bats, Ortiz has 15 extra-base hits and a .570 OPS. He has gone 2-for-21 in five games batting sixth. Clearly, the lack of protection is only making it worse for Big Papi. His only promising-looking at-bat came against Toronto when he hit a double to the center-field wall, but that’s about it these days.

Despite Ortiz’s struggles, the Red Sox still have enough patience to wait him out another month or so before deciding to do something drastic with him. The shortstop issue is a little more glaring, and a little more urgent at this point.

Julio Lugo has been up to the usual shenanigans on defense, and Nick Green is simply not a major-leaguer, let alone a starter for a team like the Red Sox. These two have played poor-enough defense to cost the Red Sox some games (Remember Green’s throw ten rows into the stands at Seattle?), and have not compensated for it on offense.

The Red Sox will need to assess their options at both of these spots. While the offense could certainly use a big boost, either by way of a Matt Holliday trade or perhaps moving Buchholz among others for a prized young hitter like Matt LaPorta.

But in my opinion, the infield defense is the biggest issue that needs to be solved. Shortstop is about as important a position as any on the field in terms of defense, and Lugo has shown no signs of progress or improvement upon his below-average fielding in over two seasons in Boston. Green can’t last too long in any kind of regular role.

Jack Wilson could be a solid solution at shortstop for the Red Sox.

Jack Wilson could be a solid solution at shortstop for the Red Sox.

There are few good, economical options out there for the Red Sox at shortstop, but Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a possibility. Wilson has been pedestrian at the plate this season, as he usually is, but he couldn’t do much worse than Green or Lugo in that regard. The big upgrade Wilson brings is on defense. The slick-fielding shortstop would probably have a Gold Glove or two by now if he was a more prominent hitter.

But at this point, all the Red Sox need at shortstop is someone who can field. And Wilson can not only make the standard plays, he can flat-out dazzle. The offense could survive having his bat in the lineup if he is preventing runs at a high rate.

As far as trade options for Wilson, that’s where it gets tricky. He certainly isn’t worth one of the Red Sox’s top prospects like Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard or Lars Anderson. But if Theo feels it’s important enough to shore up the defense (and he may think so, remember 2004?), he may move someone like Josh Reddick or 22-year-old Junichi Tazawa, who is 5-3 with a 2.82 ERA at AA Portland this season, to get Wilson.

For a team like the Pirates, who all things considered will not need a rental like Penny or Smoltz, moving a middle-tier prospect seems to make the most sense for the Red Sox. To acquire an impact player like Matt Holliday, however, would take something more. A big-time trade would make at least one, probably two out of Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz the top candidates to move.

The Red Sox have their problems, that’s for sure. Some good ones and some bad ones. The positive thing is that they can use the good problems (pitching surplus) to solve the bad ones (shortstop defense, mid-lineup power), which is likely what they will do.

With the way the Yankees have been playing, and how competitive the AL East and the entire league looks this season, it looks more and more everyday like a necessary move.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LeBron James Facing Scrutiny For Lack of Sportsmanship

The media has been stirring for the last few days after the NBA’s top seed in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, fell to the Orlando Magic in game six of the Eastern Conference finals. Orlando quietly played very well against the Cavaliers this season, and likely surprised many people with their victory, LeBron James included.

The league MVP this season and leader of a 66-win team, James obviously had high expectations placed on him, mostly by himself. So it’s no shock that he was overcome with disappointment at the end of game six, which the Cavaliers lost 103-90.

What the series was supposed to show in the end was that James’ supporting cast in Cleveland really isn’t good enough to win an NBA championship, and looked better as a result of the MVP’s superlative play. What it ultimately showed, though, was that the 24-year-old James, the league’s biggest star and most recognizable face has a thing or two to learn about sportsmanship.

After quickly disappearing into the Cleveland locker room and not saying a word to the media or anyone, LeBron broke his silence that, while less than 24 hours, felt like an eternity.

Jalen Rose’s commentary at the end says it all. In the spirit of competition, there is still a level of respect for one’s peers whether or not they like each other. Ali and Frazier still tapped the gloves even though they likely hated each other in real life. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin share an intense budding rivalry in the NHL, but they still embraced after their series showdown was over.

What LeBron did after game six was unacceptable. The problem wasn’t even that he didn’t give the media the juicy nut-graph quotes they were looking for. It was that he didn’t show his opponents the proper respect.

He went further by commenting that he can’t shake anyone’s hands just after they beat him up. What he doesn’t seem to realize is the amount of disrespect he’s showing toward Dwight Howard and the Magic by doing that. In time, he will learn that although he may not want to even look at Howard, let alone shake his hand, he still needs to do it. For the sake of the sport.

I’m not a LeBron James hater by any means. I don’t jump on the kid for any little transgression he might have. But this really bothered me. I always see James as mature beyond his years, a consummate professional who’s always willing to give props to the ones who humble him. He did it to the Celtics last season, so I expected more of the same this time around.

He eventually gave the Magic the credit they deserved, but he had already done the damage to his credibility, however small it may be in the big picture. He said he e-mailed Howard after the game to congratulate him, which is fine & dandy. But Howard had to have at least been thinking “Gee, why couldn’t he say this to me on the court?”

The scrutiny that’s coming over James might make him realize what he did was a lapse in judgment that came in the spirit of competition. There’s nothing wrong with having an intense desire to win; James wouldn’t have a chance at an NBA title without it. But when he does not reach the goal he sets out to attain, he needs to recognize the ones that stopped him. For that one night after his season ended, he failed to do so.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | basketball, hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment