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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Evan Turner Joins the Celtics' Island of Misfit Toys

While we continue to wait for the Celtics to do anything notable to save them from another Lottery-bound season, they continue to pile up mediocre to average players. Yesterday, reports surfaced that they signed free agent swingman Evan Turner by using part of their midlevel exception.

The No. 2 pick in 2010 (behind Washington's John Wall), Turner can't be labeled a bust-at least not yet-since he's put up decent numbers albeit on some mostly terrible squads. He played 3.5 seasons in Philadelphia before being traded to Indiana last season down the stretch where he mostly rode the bench for the Pacers. For his career, he's shot 43% from the floor, 33% on three-pointers and 77% from the free throw line. Haha great, another guy that can't shoot, just what the Celtics already have plenty of (Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey, etc).

In 2012-13 (his best season as a pro), Turner averaged 13.3 points per game with 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists with 0.9 steals per game. He's 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds so he's pretty solid for a small forward. He played 78 games his rookie season for Philly (14 starts), 65 the next year (20 starts), all 82 (started the whole way) in 2012-13 and 81 last season (56 starts but only 2 with Indiana) between the Sixers and Pacers. In the 2012 postseason, he averaged 11.2 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists with 0.9 steals per game as the Sixers fell to the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs.

This is a typical low-risk, high reward move for the Celts, what they seem to specialize in these days since the ping pong balls never seem to bounce their way and big-name free agents don't want to spend the winter buried under snow in New England. Like many in the NBA, Turner doesn't have the best reputation (fighting Lance Stephenson in practice during the playoffs) but the hope here is that he'll reconnect with his old Ohio State buddy Jared Sullinger and things will improve in his career.

Of course, this could all be part of Danny Ainge's mysterious plan to gain as many assets as possible before unloading them for a true star. That's what we hope at least because otherwise, it looks like it'll be another forgettable season for the Green and White.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So It Looks Like This Red Sox Season Will Be Much More Interesting Than We Thought

Listen, we all figured that the Red Sox were toast a long time ago so there's no need to lie and say any sane person that we know felt otherwise. Still, I'm happy to report that Boston (46-52 overall, 26-26 at home) is finally playing some good baseball in 2014 (it only took them nearly 100 games!) as they blanked Kansas City (48-49 overall, 26-24 away) 6-0 this afternoon at Fenway Park for the three-game sweep.

The Red Sox have won seven of their last eight games to climb within six games in the Wild Card and 7.5 in the AL East. Jon Lester (10-7) continued to consistently perform like one of the top pitchers in MLB: eight innings, four hits, eight strikeouts and two walks as he lowered his ERA to 2.50. The only reason he didn't stay in for the shutout was that he threw 115 pitches. At this point, he is a serious Cy Young contender and with each outstanding start, his already hefty price tag continues to go up. If only he had accepted Boston's joke offer (4 years, $70 in spring training)!

There aren't many things you can count on in life anymore or at least you realize that when you grow up, however Kansas City never ceases to fall apart in the middle/dog days of the season. Seriously, will they ever truly be relevant again on a national level? Young fireballer Yordano Ventura (7-8) was no match for Lester's brilliance as he allowed six earned runs on nine hits in only 4.1 innings.

The Red Sox took the lead in the first inning as Dustin Pedroia's fielder's choice scored Brock Holt (2 for 5). Daniel Nava's (2 for 3, walk) ground-rule double knocked in David Ross (2 runs, walk) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (2 for 3, 2 runs, walk) in the third inning. David Ross' two-run homer in the fourth went over the Monster, his sixth of the season, and it also drove in Shane Victorino (2 for 4, double). Boston added the final insurance run a few batters later as Nava plated Bradley Jr. with a sacrifice fly.

The next two weeks represent Boston's best chance to really get back into those respective races that I mentioned. You see, they have 13 games in a row against AL East opponents: they go to Toronto for four games then Tampa Bay for three. The Red Sox return home to face the Blue Jays three more times then they host the Yankees in three games right after the Trade Deadline (July 31).

Toronto (51-48 overall, 3rd in AL East) is only 4-6 in their last 10 games but they've won their last two (vs. hapless Texas) heading into this critical series vs. Boston. Other than no Lester, the Red Sox' pitching lines up pretty well against the Blue Jays who still don't have an ace or No. 2 if we're being honest. John Lackey (10-6) faces Drew Hutchison (6-8) on Monday night (7:07, NESN) followed by Jake Peavy (1-8) vs. J.A. Happ (7-5) on Tuesday (7:07, NESN). Clay Buchholz (5-5) takes on knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (7-10) on Wednesday (7:07, NESN) then they wrap up on Thursday afternoon (12:37, NESN) with Rubby De La Rosa (3-2) facing fellow rookie Marcus Stroman (5-2).

I'm certainly not predicting it will happen but I'd like to note before the series begins that if Boston could sweep Toronto, they would be tied in the loss column. Something to keep in mind as the series progresses if the Red Sox win the first two or three games.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bruins Re-Sign Matt Bartkowski for Another Season

In pro sports, it's all about where you play. Meaning that a mediocre player on a good team often gets exposed while nobody notices the same player on a bad or average team. I bring this convoluted thought up because the Bruins avoided arbitration today and signed defenseman Matt Bartkowski to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million.

We all know Bartkowski's strengths (moving the puck) and weaknesses (decision making) after a full season with Boston in 2013-14. In 64 games, he had zero goals, 18 assists and he was +22 with 30 penalty minutes and 91 shots on goal. In eight postseason games (he was a healthy scratch a few times), he had zero goals, one assist and was +2 with 10 penalty minutes and 12 shots on goal.

He'll never be a star but it's not hard to see Bartkowski having a long and respectable NHL career, he just turned 26 in June. He has decent size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), he's durable and you know what you're getting from him. With Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid out with major injuries for much of last season, that gave Bartkowski an opportunity for consistent ice time with the B's and a ticket out of Providence.

With Seidenberg and McQuaid both expected back by training camp in September, Bartkowski could find himself back on the fringe of the roster. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Seidenberg and McQuaid are all better than him. Still, much can change between now and the regular season starting in October: injuries, trades, playing poorly, etc.

There are many teams in the NHL that Bartkowski would be a top-4 defenseman for, the difference is that will hopefully never happen with the Bruins unless they are in a serious rebuilding mode. He provides quality depth and this contract is certainly affordable for them going forward.

UPDATE 7/16: If that Bartkowski news didn't get you fired up for this season, I know what will: the Bruins re-signed Jordan "I'm totally useless" Caron to a one-year deal worth $600,000. If I have to explain how dumb that decision is, stop reading this blog and log off forever, friend.

Red Sox End The Miserable First Portion of Their Season By Knocking Around the Astros

Time will tell if Boston (43-52 overall, 20-26 away) can gain any momentum in the second half (final 67 games) from taking four out of their last five contests heading into the All-Star break or it was just a result of playing the terrible White Sox and Astros (40-56 overall, 21-28) back-to-back? Houston's woes need no introduction as Clay Buchholz (complete game, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts, 0 walks; 1st Red Sox to strike out 12 w/no walks since Hideo Nomo in 2001) completely broke their sprit from the beginning en route to one of his best starts ever (obviously the no-hitter his rookie year trumps it).

The Red Sox cruised to an 11-0 victory at half-empty (if we're being generous) Minute Maid Park. It was the fifth career shutout for Buchholz and the 12 strikeouts set a new career-high.

With a few days off now, it was only right that Brock Holt (5 for 6 with 2 runs) had a career-day including a leadoff homer (his 3rd of the season) in front of his family (he's from Texas) and former college teammates at Rice. The immortal Brad Peacock (3-6) couldn't get three outs let alone two so he had the rare opportunity to be pulled after one out in the first for the Astros.

Dustin Pedroia (2 for 4), Daniel Nava (2 for 4 w/2 runs), Stephen Drew (2 for 4 w/run, walk) and Christian Vazquez (2 for 4 two RBIs and one run) all had multiple hits as well, Boston notched a season-high in runs and 16 hits as a team. Boston added two runs in the third on Jackie Bradley Jr.'s RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Xander Bogaerts (remember him?). Houston allowed two runs on the same play in the fifth: an infield single by Vazquez scored one run then on a throwing error by All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve.

Things started to get out of hand for the second time this weekend (in Boston's favor, they won two out of three) when the Red Sox pushed across two more runs in the seventh on Vazquez's sacrifice fly and a bases loaded walk by David Ortiz. Mike Carp had a pinch hit two-run triple because why not and the final run scored on Ortiz's groundout. Buchholz has looked way better recently since returning from the DL but I don't know how much you can take away from even a gem like that vs. Houston.

Not to plan the week ahead for you but the Home Run Derby is tomorrow night, the All-Star Game is on Tuesday and the 2014 ESPYs are on Wednesday hosted by Drake. MLB is off for the next four days so expect many lucky bastards to take exotic vacations. Boston returns with three games against Kansas City (48-46, 2nd in AL Central) next weekend at Fenway Park.

UPDATE 7/16: That bucket of crap A.J. Pierzynski was officially released today after nobody wanted to trade for him, shocking I know.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I Can't Believe That I'm Saying This But Did We Count Out the Red Sox Too Soon?

Let's be honest: it would take one hell of a turnaround for the Red Sox to push for a Wild Card spot let alone compete in the upside down AL East. Still, the last few days have been a revelation in terms of showing us that maybe there is a reason to tune in and hope for the improbable for the rest of 2014.

Boston (42-51 overall, 19-25 away) won their third straight game as they opened the final series before the All-Star break with an 8-3 win at Houston's (39-55 overall, 20-27 home) Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox had 12 hits and led 8-1 in the sixth inning en route to a very rare laugher (in a good way). They are within eight games of the second Wild Card spot and 9.5 behind first-place Baltimore.

Pitching in his home state, John Lackey (10-6) became the first Red Sox pitcher to reach double digit wins this season. His usual pinpoint control was off (3 strikeouts/5 walks) but he still lasted six innings and only allowed two earned runs on four hits.

For once, Boston built an early lead and proceeded to increase it over the next few innings just like a good team. Brock Holt (2 for 4, double, 2 runs, walk) had an RBI triple in the third and Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI double for the 2-0 advantage. Rookie catcher Christian Vazquez had quite a memorable night: recording his first MLB hit, extra base hit and RBI. He added an RBI double in the fourth as the Red Sox went up 3-0 on the hapless Astros.

Enrique Hernandez's RBI single cut it to 3-1 in the fourth but Scott Feldman (4-6) couldn't keep it even that close as he was charged with seven earned runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings. Vazquez notched a two-run double in the sixth and David Ortiz greeted lefty Darin Downs with a bases clearing double that put this in the win column for the Red Sox.

Chris Carter went over .200 and boosted his stats with a pair of garbage time solo homers in the sixth and eighth (his 18th and 19th of the season). Houston finished 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and they left 10 men on base. Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. each collected two singles and scored a run in the victory.

Assuming that he's not traded before first pitch (4:10, NESN)-a very real possibility-Jake Peavy (1-7) will take the mound tomorrow vs. Brett Oberholtzer (2-7). As you can tell by their records, this is unlikely to be a pitcher's duel but rather a battle of bullpens and a long game so stock up on some adult beverages to get through it comfortably.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Are You Not Entertained? Another Day, Another Walk-Off Win for the Red Sox

At this rate, we can only conclude that A.J. Pierzynski is the anti-Christ while Dan Shaughnessy puts together his newest classic: "The Curse of A.J." The Red Sox improved to 2-0 in the post-Pierzynski era (that has a nice ring to it) and both came in walk-off fashion vs. the White Sox' dogshit bullpen. This afternoon on a perfect summer day at Fenway Park, Boston (41-51 overall, 23-26 home) came away with a 4-3 win in 10 innings thanks to Mike Carp's RBI single that scored Daniel Nava.

In the home finale before the All-Star break, the Red Sox earned a split of the four-game series with the White Sox and built some momentum (what a concept!) heading into the last series of the unofficial first half: three games in Houston.

I'm not Jon Lester's agent, though I wish I was with the dump trucks of money soon coming his way, but this game served as a perfect example of why Boston would be crazy to let him go either in free agency or via trade. He's pitching as well as he ever has in the regular season. It went down as a no-decision but he was brilliant, going seven innings and allowing one earned run on seven hits with 12 strikeouts and no walks. His ERA is down to 2.65.

Boston had more runs than total hits (3), so how did they come out on top? Well Chicago was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base, sound familiar? White Sox starter Jose Quintana (7 innings, 3 earned runs, 2 hits, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks) pitched well too but for the second game in a row, Chicago's pathetic relievers blew it.

Jose Abreu (2 for 4, walk, stolen base)-who is a lock to be AL Rookie of the Year now that Masahiro Tanaka is on the DL-made it 1-0 with an RBI double in the first that scored Adam Eaton (3 for 5). Quintana was working on a perfect game until the sixth when Boston tied it on Jackie Bradley Jr.'s RBI single and went ahead 3-1 on David Ortiz's two-run double off the Green Monster.

That looked to be enough for the Red Sox as Junichi Tazawa worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts. Koji Uehara couldn't nail down the save though as pinch-hitter Conor Gillaspie took him deep for a two-run bomb wrapped around Pesky's Pole. Alexei Ramirez was 3 for 5 with a double, run and stolen base in the loss for Chicago.

No worries, Nava led off the bottom of the tenth with a walk then Mookie Betts sacrificed him over with a bunt. After Stephen Drew was intentionally walked, Carp (pinch hitting for David Ross) delivered with an opposite field single to left that scored Nava. Andrew Miller (3-5) had worked around a single and intentional walk to Abreu to survive the top of the frame.

I'm still not used to having the Astros (39-54 overall, 4th in AL West) in the AL (change is hard!) because I wanted to call this an interleague series. By looking at their record, you'd think Houston is awful and I suppose that yes they still are really bad. The difference is that now they have young stars like Dallas Kuechel and UConn's George Springer doing their thing in H-Town.

The two Texas starters on the Red Sox get outings in their home state-shoutout to Brandon Workman toiling away in Pawtucket!-as John Lackey (9-6) faces Scott Feldman (4-5) tomorrow night (8:10, NESN) in the series opener. Clay Buchholz (3-5) takes on Collin McHugh (4-8) on Saturday afternoon (4:10, NESN) then the jets will be lined up on the runway Sunday afternoon (2:10, NESN) when TBA opposes Houston's Jarred Cosart (9-6). After that, John Farrell, his coaching staff, Lester and Uehara will head to Minnesota for the Midsummer Classic while everyone else scatters around the country with four glorious days off in a row.

The Curse of A.J. Pierzynski is Broken, Red Sox Start a Fresh New Chapter

A funny thing happened to the Red Sox tonight on the way to another heartless loss: they actually pulled out an improbable comeback capped off by a walk-off single by Brock Holt to beat the White Sox 5-4 at Fenway Park. Chicago (44-48 overall, 20-27 away) had been up 4-0 in the eighth inning before Boston (40-51 overall, 22-26 home) scored three in the eighth then two in the ninth for their seventh walk-off win of the season.

With their ace Chris Sale (7.2 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts) on the mound, this was a game that the White Sox had no business losing. He left after throwing 107 pitches; relievers Jake Patricka and Javy Guerra (0-1) each gave up two earned runs to blow it after Chicago had won the first two games of the series. It sounds cheesy but wins have been so hard to come by lately that I almost forgot how sweet they can feel in situations like that.

Rubby De La Rosa (5 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts) made his first start for Boston since June 21 after he was called up to take Brandon Workman's place (while he went back to Pawtucket). Rookie catcher Christian Vazquez made his MLB debut and with Boston designating A.J. Pierzynski for assignment earlier in the day, this means that the highly touted youngster will be getting plenty of playing time to see what he can do.

Jose Abreu (2 for 4) hit a solo homer to center field, his 28th of the season (!), in the first inning. Conor Gillaspie (2 for 4 with double, 2 runs) followed with a solo shot of his own in the second for a 2-0 White Sox advantage. Chicago scored a run in the fourth on Mike Napoli's error and it was 4-0 in the seventh following an RBI double by Adam Eaton.

The Red Sox' rally started with something I've never seen before: an infield double by Mookie Betts (2 for 3 with 2 runs, double). Dustin Pedroia drove him in with a single then David Ortiz (2 for 4 with run) crushed an opposite field double off the wall in left center to cut it to 4-2. Jonny Gomes (2 for 3) made it 4-3 with an RBI double.

He batted ninth as part of Boston's five rookies in the lineup (their most since 1987) but Betts came through again in the ninth. He was hit by a pitch then scored the tying run on Daniel Nava's pinch hit double. That set the stage for Holt's first career walk-off hit and who better to provide it with how incredible he's been since he was called up (again).

It didn't seem like much at the time but this victory wouldn't have been possible without Craig Breslow (1-2-3 6th), Junichi Tazawa (scoreless 8th) and the newest All-Star Koji Uehara (5-2) who struck out the side in the ninth to set the tone.

In their last home game before the All-Star break, Jon Lester (9-7) faces Jose Quintana (5-7) tomorrow afternoon (4:05, NESN) as Boston tries to split the four-game series with Chicago.