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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Red Sox Avoid 3-Game Sweep in Tampa Bay

You knew that at some point, the Red Sox (48-57 overall, 22-31 away) would stumble into another win maybe even before July ended. What perfect timing today as Boston beat Tampa Bay (51-54 overall, 24-20 home) 3-2 this afternoon at Tropicana Field in the series finale. The victory snapped Tampa Bay's 9-game win streak and their own five-game skid.

Allen Webster (1-0) made his 2014 Red Sox debut: 5.1 innings, 2 earned runs, 3 hits, 4 strikeouts and 5 walks. His location was off all game but Boston's bullpen bailed him out thanks to the work of Edward Mujica (2 outs), Andrew Miller (scoreless 7th), Junichi Tazawa (scoreless 8th w/2 Ks) and Koji Uehara (scoreless in 9th inning and he struck out of the side for his 21st save).

Tampa Bay's Chris Archer (6-6) was ok except for one big mistake: David Ortiz crushed a three-run bomb of him in the third inning for a 3-0 Red Sox advantage. It seems like every time Ortiz gets a hit, RBI or especially home run these days it's a new record and this was no different: it was his 25th homer of the season. I'm not going to delve too deeply in it since I think it's a moronic argument but I have to acknowledge that after the game, Archer was complaining about Ortiz flipping his bat after the homer. Here's a thought: make a better pitch. I'm so sick of the Rays and how much whining they do which is saying something for a baseball team.

Desmond Jennings hit a two-run double in the home half of the third but that would be the final time that either team scored a run. They combined for only 11 hits but Daniel Nava (2 for 4, walk, run) and Dustin Pedroia (2 for 3, walk, run, stolen base) both had good days at the plate. Oddly enough, the Red Sox won the first game of their just completed road trip and the last; it was those five games in between that proved to be so elusive.

Toronto won three of four vs. Boston to start the trip and now the Blue Jays (56-50 overall, 2nd in AL East) come to Fenway Park for three games (the final series before the trade deadline on Thursday). It's an interesting stretch as Boston then hosts the Yankees for three games and travels to St. Louis and Anaheim (I refuse to say LA)-both serious playoff contenders-for three games apiece.

Tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) it is Clay Buchholz (5-6) vs. R.A. Dickey (8-10), followed by Rubby De La Rosa (3-3) vs. Marcus Stroman (6-2) on Tuesday (7:10, NESN) and Jon Lester (10-7) vs. Mark Buehrle (10-7) on Wednesday (7:10, NESN). Those first two matchups occurred last week and Toronto won in each instance. Odds are that there will be at least one trade involving the Red Sox in the next few days as they continue to shuffle the deck. Reports have surfaced that they're looking at Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp which I'm all on board with. It's a weird position to be in as Boston tries to play spoiler against Toronto and to a lesser extent New York (since I don't think they can sustain a playoff push).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let The Red Sox Fire Sale Begin, Enjoy Your Duckboat Jake Peavy!

We've known for weeks, maybe months, that the 2014 Red Sox were circling the drain and there would be no postseason baseball this fall for the defending World Series champs. Their recent four-game slide has sent Boston (47-56 overall) back to the basement in the AL East-10.5 games behind first place Baltimore and seven games back in the Wild Card. The non-waiver trade deadline is looming on Thursday so the Red Sox finally made a move as they flipped veteran starting pitcher Jake Peavy to the Giants for minor league pitchers righty Heath Hembree and lefty Edwin Escobar.

He's had some bad luck and no run support for months (2 runs or fewer in his last 8 starts) but the fact is that in 20 starts this season, Peavy is 1-9 with 4.72 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. At 33, he looks pretty washed up but the funny thing is that he could look like a different guy when he gets to the friendly confines of AT&T Park along with the weak West (3 teams at least 10 games under .500) in the JV National League. Plus he has 7.5 years of experience with San Diego so that should count for something.

Peavy will make his Giants (57-46) debut tomorrow night on Sunday Night Baseball (8:07, ESPN) at home vs. Dodgers. Being on a good team in a pennant race should also give him a boost for a few months, similar to what happened basically a year ago when he came over from the White Sox to the Red Sox.

With Brandon Workman waiting in the wings in Pawtucket, Boston probably won't miss anything Peavy could bring anymore on the field. However, not to sound too cheesy here but he seemed like a great dude that everybody loved. This is the same guy that bought a Duck Boat after the World Series win, he immediately embraced his new team and what it meant to play in such a special environment. Those things that you can't measure in endless baseball stats is what the Red Sox and their fans will miss most about Jake Peavy, he is the rare baseball player that isn't a dink.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Good Day for BU: Former Terriers Star Sacco Named B's Assistant Coach & Warsofsky Signs 1-Year Deal

There was a time in the not so distant past that Boston University was one of the premier men's college hockey programs in the nation. That has changed with the retirement of legendary head coach Jack Parker. Today, the Bruins kept BU alumni and fans in New England happy as they named former Terriers star (and Medford MA native) Joe Sacco assistant coach and signed defenseman David Warsofsky (another BU product, from Marshfield MA) to a one-year/two-way contract worth $600,000.

Last season, Sacco was sentenced to a year in NHL purgatory as he was an assistant for the pitiful Sabres. It was the crappy way he had to bounce back after being fired from the Avalanche where he served as head coach from 2009-2013. For Colorado, his overall record was 130-134-40 and he won the Jack Adams Award (best coach) in 2010 after leading the Avs to the postseason. He takes over for longtime assistant Geoff Ward who left the B's to take a head coaching job in Germany, um ok? In 13 seasons in the NHL and on five teams (Leafs, Ducks, Islanders, Capitals and Penguins), Sacco amassed 94 goals and 119 assists.

I mentioned Warsofsky not just because he's a local guy but since he seems to have a good opportunity to stick in Boston next season. In six games with the B's last season, he had a goal and an assist. With Providence, he put up six goals and 26 assists. He's basically Torey Krug Lite: 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, good skater and left-handed shot who excels at moving the puck particularly on the power play. At age 24 and with 190 games in the AHL under his belt, this appears to be a big chance for Warsofsky to take the next step in his career.

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.