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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Maybe There Is a Method to Don Sweeney's Madness After All

This is such a wasteland on the American sports calendar every year and it certainly doesn't help when the Red Sox are so unwatchable and irrelevant by the middle of May. I'm trying to (partially) rationalize why we tend to overreact to any significant trades involving our local teams that come at this extremely dull point of the summer. Case in point, the Bruins last week looked like a drunken mess as they traded Carl Soderberg to Colorado for a sixth-round pick, Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for three picks and Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for Martin Jones, a minor league defenseman and a pick. We wondered, "what the hell is Don Sweeney doing?" He doubled up on the crazy by rewarding mediocre defenseman Adam McQuaid with a four-year contract.

For a change from last week's constant drama and unending questions, today brought some sense of clarity for the Black and Gold. First, they signed coveted free agent left wing Matt Beleskey to a five-year deal worth $19 million. He's the exact same age-down to the day-as Lucic (27) but unlike the former Bruin, his career trajectory seems to be trending upwards. Last season, he put up a career-best 22 goals in the regular season (65 games) followed by eight goals in the postseason for Anaheim. Granted playing with Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf would turn almost anyone into a 20-goal scorer but Beleskey similarly should bring size (206 pounds), toughness and the left-handed shot that they were looking for. Put him with David Krejci and David Pastrnak or Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand then we might have something.

Sweeney won more support by trading away oft-criticized forward Reilly Smith and Marc Savard's $4 million cap hit to Florida for former BC star and Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes. Smith scored 20 goals two seasons ago but that went down to only 13 this past campaign. That coupled with the fact that he does literally nothing else made him easily expendable. I would normally bitch about the Bruins giving him that silly extension last year but I'm tired so oh well. Hayes' numbers were pretty similar to Smith's last season (19 goals, 16 assists) and his huge frame (6-foot-6, 221 pounds) should help the Bruins crash the net better (something that nobody consistently does for them).

Now it's time to sign some NHL-caliber top-six defensemen since at the moment, Boston has like four that they can reasonably count on: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and McQuaid (kind of). Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year deal with Vancouver and Gregory Campbell agreed to a two-year deal with Columbus; needless to say after their rough performances last season, most Bruins fans aren't sad to see those two leave town.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sadly, The Celtics Still Remain Stuck In NBA Purgatory

The unfortunate reality of today's NBA is that your favorite team is going nowhere unless they have multiple All-Stars and/or reside in a sunny location like LA or Miami. Even worse, places which should be attractive to free agents like Boston or New York are not at all, meaning that one of the league's marquee franchises-the Celtics-will be nothing more than a slightly above average team until they can hoodwink a former player to trade another franchise guy (thanks again Kevin McHale for Kevin Garnett).

Armed with four draft picks last week (2 in each round), we hoped that Boston would move up to get an impact player. Instead, GM Danny Ainge stuck with all four to get a mostly uninspiring group: Louisville guard Terry Rozier, Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter, LSU power forward Jordan Mickey and William and Mary (yes they play basketball there) Marcus Thornton (the other one). Free agency began last night at midnight and as expected, the Green and White have been pretty quiet thus far. There has been whispers about free agent power forward Greg Monroe (who would be perfect for the C's) but that died down rather fast as he got wooed by more likely suitors.

All Boston has done so far is sign former Raptors power forward Amir Johnson (2 years, $24 million) and re-sign power forward Jonas Jerebko (2 years, $10 million) and swingman Jae Crowder (5 years, $35 million). Don't get me wrong, these are all decent players that will help but truthfully, they don't bring the Celtics any closer to that elusive Banner 19. They are all role players and that'll probably never change.

Johnson is quite a success story since he skipped college and was drafted late in the second round (56th overall by the Pistons) in 2005. He's 28 and he's coming off of a six-year run North of the border. Last season, he averaged 9.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and he shot 57% from the floor and 41% on 3-pointers. He's 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds but not the most physical guy so you won't see him battling too much down low (a big issue for the undersized Celtics last season). He is a good shooter with decent range for a big guy.

Jerebko was a complete unknown when he was traded here last season for Detroit. At 28, he is a perfect bench player as he showed in 29 games with the Celts (7.1 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 41% on 3-pointers). Likewise, Crowder seemed like a throw-in from the Mavericks to complete the Rajon Rondo deal (remember him?) but he can really play. A versatile and tough defender, he brought an edge to the C's as they made that surprising run to the playoffs before they were swept by the Cavaliers in the first round. After not getting much of a chance to show what he can do in Dallas, Crowder made the most of his opportunity last season: averaging a career-best 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and one steal per game for Boston in 57 games. He turns 25 on Monday so a longer contract makes sense since he is currently one of the Celtics' best players (really).

Where else does Boston go from here? Your guess is as good as mine; just don't count on them bringing in any big names. With head coach Brad Stevens and a bunch of coachable, hard-working, team-first players, the C's are destined for another playoff spot and a quick exit once again when they go up against one of the East's best teams like Cleveland, Chicago or Atlanta. Are you having fun yet?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

In Their First Rematch Since Last Year's Crushing MLS Cup Loss, Revolution Tie Galaxy 2-2

It is still May (for a less than an hour) but the 2015 Red Sox' (22-29) season already looks hopeless. That means once again we need something to distract us in the sports wasteland known as summer with Patriots training camp and preseason games still over two months away. I'm not trying to convert anyone (that's not my style) but only noting that the Revolution (5-3-6) appear to be a title contender in MLS for those that care. New England lost in heartbreaking fashion-2-1 in overtime-in the 2014 MLS Cup vs. Los Angeles (5-4-6) and on Sunday, those budding rivals met at Gillette Stadium in basically a monsoon.

They tied 2-2 in a up-and-down match that featured about as exciting a first half as you'll ever see (in MLS at least) before a dull second half that had no goals and few chances for either side. New England has tied its last three matches and they are winless in their last five (0-1-4) so they really could have used three points despite the fact that they are in second-place in the East (four points behind D.C.). Nothing was officially announced tonight but midfielder Jermaine Jones left in the first half with a groin injury and it sounds pretty serious. You feel terrible for him because he had just been called up earlier in the day for the US National team's exhibitions at Holland and Germany later this week. At 33 you never know, that might have been his last shot to represent the U.S. Ugh, hopefully that is not the case though.

The Revs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute thanks to their quickest goal of the season. Midfielder Scott Caldwell served a perfect cross to the far post where midfielder Teal Bunbury ran onto it and one-touched the ball into LA's net. That was Bunbury's third goal of the season and Caldwell's fourth assist of the season as he becomes one of the team's rising stars.

The Galaxy responded soon after that as they scored a pretty goal in the 18th minute. Rookie midfielder Ignacio Maganto volleyed in a blast from outside the box that Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth had no chance to stop. Would you believe that was his first career goal? It had been the seventh straight match that New England had scored the first goal, which shows their need to tighten things up once they get a lead. Granted, they were missing defender Chris Tierney and star midfielder Lee Nguyen vs. LA because both had accumulated too many yellow cards in previous matches.

LA made it 2-1 in the 27th minute on a beautiful back heel by Maganto that was finished by standout forward Gyasi Zardes (another USMNT member). Perhaps the most notable development of the game, well besides Jones' injury, was the final goal. Revs midfielder Diego Fagundez has showed plenty of promise the last few years but head coach Jay Heaps doesn't seem to have much confidence in the youngster. Fagundez got the start tonight and he came through with a gorgeous free kick goal in the 37th minute. He bent the direct kick around LA's wall and past a diving Penedo. It was his first goal of the season and it couldn't come at a better time for his confidence.

Not including their Open Cup match vs. Charlotte on June 17 at Harvard, three of New England's next four matches are on the road. That tough June starts with a meeting with the Timbers (5-5-4) on Saturday (10:30, CSN) in Portland. The Revolution never seem to play well on the West Coast and the Timbers have one of the better home field advantages in Major League Soccer at Providence Park so getting a positive result there will be a chore.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Finally, A Reason To Watch the Red Sox This Season (Well At Least Every 5th Game)

Hey gang, remember the Red Sox? They had a nice run for a while, huh? What ever happened to them? Oh that's right, they are headed on a course straight for their third last-place finish in the last four seasons. That is until tonight when rookie lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez proved to be something of a revelation in his MLB debut. The former Oriole (obtained in the Andrew Miller trade last season) and highly touted prospect went 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing only three hits with seven strikeouts and two walks as Boston (22-26 overall, 12-14 away) won the series opener 5-1 over Texas (23-25 overall, 6-14 home) at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Obviously one starting pitcher in baseball can't make that much of a difference on a bad team but at least this gives us a reason to watch again (when he's on the hill). The reason I hadn't written about the Red Sox in weeks is that just like last year, not only are they terrible but they are also boring which is a deadly combination for an MLB team. I don't know about you but I'd like to have something to watch this summer when there is literally nothing else going on in the sports universe. That's where you come in, Red Sox.

Maybe this will be the high point of Rodriguez's career; at least we saw that he has this type of ability against a quality lineup. The same can't be said for the rest of Boston's sorry rotation. The plan before his gem was to send him back to Pawtucket but there is no chance that will happen. The immortal Nick Martinez (4-1) held the Red Sox in check until the fifth when Mookie Betts (3 for 5, triple) drove in Blake Swihart (2 for 4, run) with an RBI single.

Hanley Ramirez hit his first home run of May (his first in 85 at bats), a solo shot to left center in the sixth for a 2-0 Red Sox advantage. Martinez (7 innings, 2 earned runs, 9 hits, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks) would fit in well on the Red Sox since he pitched really well but his offense let him down to say the least. Boston got three more insurance runs in the eighth on a gift two-run single for Swihart that was misplayed by Texas second baseman Adam Rosales. Boston's final run came from an infield single by Rusney Castillo that scored the newest member of the team-outfielder Carlos Peguero.

The Rangers' lone run came in the ninth on an RBI single by Josh Hamilton (2 for 4, double) who was playing his first game back in Texas after being reacquired from the Angels. It'll be interesting to see how Rodriguez fares in his second start and so on. Now MLB teams will have more tape on him so he won't be such a mystery. Dustin Pedroia has been batting leadoff lately for Boston and it seems to be working, he was 3 for 5 this evening. Xander Bogaerts got hit on the left forearm with a pitch in the fourth inning and had to leave but his injury was termed a "forearm contusion" which doesn't sound too serious.

Steven Wright (2-1) faces Yovani Gallardo (4-6) tomorrow night (8:05, NESN) in the second game of a four-game set.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Red Sox Avoid The Sweep in Toronto, Thanks to Napoli and Sandoval's Blasts

With their pathetic downward spiral to last-place in the AL East over these last few weeks, the Red Sox had basically become unwatchable. I only saw bits and pieces of the carnage, because who could devote three plus hours to that trainwreck every day/night in early May? At least Boston (14-17 overall, 7-8 away) salvaged something from the trip to Canada with a 6-3 win this afternoon on Mother's Day at Rogers Centre vs. Blue Jays (16-16 overall, 9-7 home).

Clay Buchholz (2-4) actually pitched pretty decently by his very low standards (6.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 7 hits, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks) while Mike Napoli hit a three-run bomb and Pablo Sandoval (double, 2 runs) added a two-run shot of his own. Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth with one strikeout for his sixth save of the season and 100th of his career (combined between MLB and Japan).

It sounds pretty simple but the Red Sox have excelled when they have scored first this season (they are now 9-2). That's why today's start was basically perfect: Mookie Betts tripled to lead off the game and Dustin Pedroia knocked him in with a groundout. Later that inning, Napoli launched his third homer of the season to center. Haha if only Boston could play R.A. Dickey (6 innings, 6 earned runs, 7 hits, 0 strikeouts, 3 walks) more often, then they would be getting somewhere.

Sporting a new gross haircut (hard to believe, I know), Buchholz actually held that four-run lead for over three innings which was a cause for celebration. Framingham native Chris Colabello (3 for 4) continued his hot streak with an RBI single in the fourth which cut it to 4-1. Sandoval's two-run home run to right center in the fifth was also his third of the season.

The Blue Jays got a run in the fifth on Josh Donaldson's RBI double and their final run came in the seventh on a groundout. After getting outscored 7-0 on Friday night and 7-1 on Saturday afternoon, it was nice to see the Red Sox show a slight pulse. Buchholz pitched long enough that new pitching coach Carl Willis (in his first day on the job) only had to see Junichi Tazawa (1.2 scoreless innings) bridge the gap to Uehara. No need to use any of their far less reliable relievers.

In their first West Coast action of the season, Boston headed for Oakland (12-21 overall, 5th in AL West) where they will play three games against the reeling A's. Then it's off to Seattle (14-17 overall, 3rd in AL West) for four games. They don't return to Fenway Park until a week from Tuesday against Texas. Haha who knows what kind of shape the hometown team will be in by then?

In the series opener tomorrow night (10:05) it is Rick Porcello (3-2) vs. former Rays great Scott Kazmir (2-1). Justin Masterson (2-1) faces Drew Pomeranz (1-3) on Tuesday night (10:05. NESN) before things wrap up on Wednesday afternoon (3:35, NESN) with Wade Miley (1-3) taking on Sonny Gray (4-0). If the Red Sox have any hope of becoming a good team in 2015, they need to take at least two out of three vs. the awful A's.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boston Sports Fans Turn Their Lonely Eyes to Red Sox & Betts Delivers His 1st Career Walk-Off Hit

The Celtics are done for the season after getting swept by the Cavaliers yesterday and the Bruins have been long gone for weeks so now, locally all we have left until August (when Patriots training camp and preseason begins) is the Red Sox. That is unless you count the Revolution (MLS), Cannons (MLL) and/or Breakers (women's professional soccer) which I'm pretty sure that you do not.

Boston (11-9 overall, 5-3 home) took advantage of this added attention with a thrilling 6-5 win at Fenway Park on Monday night vs. Toronto (9-11 overall, 4-6 away) to open a nine-game homestand vs. AL East foes (Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays). Mookie Betts (3 for 4 with 2 runs, 2B & BB) came through with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth that scored Xander Bogaerts. It was particularly memorable for the rookie since it was his first walk-off hit in MLB.

It was a weird game from the start, as it was supposed to start at 6:10 p.m. (a nice new feature on weekdays in chilly April) but was delayed 33 minutes by rain. Then Toronto scored three runs in the first off Joe Kelly (6 innings, 5 earned runs, 5 hits, career-high 10 strikeouts, 3 walks) on an RBI single by Devon Travis (2 runs) and two-run double by Russell Martin.

Boston chipped away at the lead (and Aaron Sanchez) beginning with a two-run single by Pablo Sandoval in the bottom of the first. The Blue Jays built their lead back up to three with Travis' solo homer in the third and an RBI single by Kevin Pillar in the fourth. Sandoval hadn't hit a home run in a Red Sox uniform before yesterday's blowout loss in Baltimore but he made it two in two games with a line drive that got over the fence in right in the fourth, cutting it to 5-3.

Betts scored in the fifth after Sanchez made a throwing error, something which has been happening non-stop to the benefit of Boston so far this season. Other than everyone overrating the Blue Jays seemingly for the past decade, another staple of playing MLB's lone Canadian club is that their bullpen is always a complete joke. The Red Sox tied it in the eighth on Hanley Ramirez's sacrifice fly that scored Betts.

So far, Boston's pitching rotation has been even worse than we could have imagined. They are going nowhere with this sorry group of starters but on the other hand, their lineup is lethal and should keep them in most games. Oh and the bullpen is a mess too although Alexi Ogando pitched two scoreless innings of relief and Koji Uehara (2-1) had a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts (two nights after looking like toast when he gave up a walk-off homer to the Orioles).

The best thing you can say about this flawed squad is that they are certainly interesting so much like a car crash, we probably won't be able to turn away from these crazy games. Haha when you can't pitch and give up runs like a beer league softball team, who doesn't want to tune in to that? Maybe spring will appear as well, haha who knows? Tomorrow night (6:10, NESN) Clay Buchholz (1-2) faces Drew Hutchison (2-0). That has 10-8 written all over it, bring your glove if you are going to the game, you might catch a home run.

Monday, April 20, 2015

NBA Playoffs Reality Check: It Will Be a Miracle if the Celtics Win a Single Game vs. Cavaliers

I am not a delusional person so I never thought for a second that the Celtics could actually beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series, let alone win a few games and make it somewhat competitive. The first-round playoff series opened this afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena and Boston actually played about as well as they could (on the road at least) but still lost 113-100 to Cleveland. Haha would you believe that Vegas had the Celts as a 12-point underdog? How do those gambling magicians do it?

Anyways, Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 30 points in his playoff debut, LeBron James had 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals while Kevin Love put up 19 points and 12 rebounds in his first taste of the NBA playoffs. Forget the Celtics for a second, what other team in the Eastern Conference can beat this collection of All-Stars? For most of the regular season, I openly rooted against the C's because making the playoffs seemed so pointless to their mission of acquiring talent and assets. Near the end, I changed my mind since truly tanking was impossible and this group is extremely likable under one of the best head coaches-Brad Stevens-in basketball.

The sad reality of the NBA playoffs (and one of the many reasons that the NHL playoffs are better) is that upsets are few and far between, especially with top seeds and championship contenders. Anyone with half a brain realizes that Boston has essentially no chance to win this series. All we want is some relatively close games and maybe a win at the Garden, that'd be nice and something to build on for next season. Plus, with no Bruins playoff games this spring, we are just trying to delay what looks to be a mediocre Red Sox campaign.

Talent usually wins out in the NBA and even though the Celtics had six guys score in double-figures, led by Isaiah Thomas' 22 points, 10 assists and five rebounds off the bench, they predictably had no answer for the Cavs' big three. Evan Turner had 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists but he struggled with his shot (4 of 12 from the field). Brandon Bass and Marcus Smart were both pretty quiet, each guy was held to 10 points. Boston's bench kept them in it for a while as Kelly Olynyk scored 12 points and Jae Crowder added 10 points and five rebounds.

The Celtics couldn't have asked for a better start as they led 31-27 after the first quarter and 37-29 early in the second which was their biggest advantage of the game. Cleveland finally woke up from there and led by eight points at halftime (62-54) thanks to Irving's buzzer beating 3-pointer. The Cavaliers continued to steamroll the Celtics in the third quarter, opening up a 20-point lead (82-62) but Boston countered with a 14-0 run. Cleveland was up 91-76 heading into the fourth after another buzzer-beater 3-pointer, this time by J.R. Smith.

When you are so overmatched physically, I honestly don't know what Brad Stevens can tell his guys with a straight face. They won't suddenly wake up bigger, stronger or faster. I'm guessing that he points out how the Cavaliers made five more 3-pointers (13-8), eight more free throws (26-18) and grabbed 12 more rebounds (46-34) including eight on the offensive glass (15-7) in Game 1. I have a feeling that Game 2 on Tuesday (7, CSN) could be ugly much sooner if Cleveland decides to show up from the opening tip-off.