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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Red Sox Beat Yankees 2-1 in Classic Pitcher's Duel

We know that enjoyable nights like this have been few and far between in the 2014 season for the Red Sox and that will most likely continue the rest of the way. It's precisely why you have to take them for what they are, Boston (37-44 overall, 17-25 away) beat New York (41-38 overall, 18-19 home) 2-1 tonight at Yankee Stadium in the middle game of a three-game series.

Jon Lester (9-7) came out on top of Masahiro Tanaka (11-3) who is a lock for the AL Rookie of the Year but also the frontrunner for the Cy Young (up to this point at least). Both of Boston's runs came on homers, fittingly enough at that Little League park. David Ross took Tanaka deep to left center in the third for his fourth home run of the season. Then Mike Napoli came through with a 355-foot "homer" (his 10th of the season) that ESPN Stats and Info noted would only go out in Yankee Stadium (it reached the first row), no other stadium in MLB. Oh well!

Lester went eight innings, allowing one unearned run (thanks Stephen Drew) on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk. Lester earned his ninth win at the new Yankee Stadium, four more than any other opponent. Napoli's homer was his sixth there since 2013, again the most by a visitor. Tanaka had the rare complete game loss: allowing seven hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.

Almost all of his teammates have suffered major drop offs from their performance levels in 2013 but not Koji Uehara. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts for his 17th save of the season. His ERA is 1.23 and with manager John Farrell in charge of the AL at the All-Star Game, you can bet he'll be making a trip to Minnesota in a few weeks.

It's been a pretty tough season at the plate for Dustin Pedroia (.268/.339/.377) but he had one of his better games going 3 for 4 plus he started a sweet double play in the eighth inning with Drew. Jacoby Ellsbury was the only Yankee with multiple hits, he was 2 for 4.

The series wraps up tomorrow night (8:05, ESPN) with another primetime game. John Lackey (8-5) takes on rookie Chase Whitley (3-1) in Sunday Night Baseball. Boston's top prospect Mookie Betts was called up earlier today and he's set to make his MLB debut tomorrow night, probably in right field. Rubby De La Rosa was the unfortunate casualty of this somewhat gutsy (and obvious) move by the Red Sox as he was sent back to Pawtucket. That's right, Jake Peavy is still in the rotation along with Brandon Workman.

A win would be nice for Boston, particularly because its the finale of this long and mostly painful (3-6) road trip. Tonight's victory made them 3-6 against the Yankees in 2014 with 10 meetings remaining.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Celtics Keep Their 2014 Draft Picks (For Now) To Select Marcus Smart & James Young

After months and months of anticipation (remember how terrible last season was for the Celtics?), finally tonight was the 2014 NBA Draft. Boston kept both of their picks (No. 6 and No. 17; none in the second round) and chose Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart along with Kentucky swingman James Young. Right up there with mock drafts, I think that instant analysis the night of the event is ridiculous so I'll hold off pretending to predict the future in terms of their NBA careers.

What I can say with confidence after watching him for two seasons as a Cowboy is that Smart is a winner: tough, dependable, competitive and athletic. The main knock on him is that he can't shoot but I think he does so many other things well that it's not a huge deal. I have to admit that I know much less about Young who left Kentucky after his freshman year (where they went to the NCAA Championship game and lost to UConn). He's a lefty and outstanding 3-point shooter.

The natural reaction to these selections for Celtics fans has to be wondering what this all means in terms of Rajon Rondo. You only need so many guards on an NBA team so you question if he'll be dealt at some point this summer. Still, if they hope to land Kevin Love in a trade or attract marquee free agents (keep dreaming), Rondo is the only way to accomplish that successfully.

Smart could have been the No. 1 pick if he came out after his freshman season. Young seemed to get better as his only season with the Wildcats went on, particularly in the NCAA Tournament. They are both youngsters: James is only 18 (@realjamesyoung on Twitter) and turns 19 in August while Marcus (@smart_MS3) is 20. I can't remember if the Celtics are participating in a Summer League but if so, you can bet their two newest draft picks will be in it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

For One Night At Least, The Bruins Run Las Vegas

Normally, I could be easily categorized as a cynic. I usually preach how individual awards don't mean that much, especially when you don't deliver a championship in that same season, but I feel like the slew of awards won by Bruins at last night's 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas are still something to celebrate and be proud of. Tuukka Rask won his first Vezina Trophy (top goaltender), Patrice Bergeron won his second Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) and also the NHL Player Foundation Award (enrich lives of people in the community).

In addition to that, defenseman Zdeno Chara (who came in second for the Norris Trophy-top defenseman) and Rask were named to the NHL First All-Star team. It's the third time that Boston's captain has earned that honor and another first for Rask. Also, rookie defenseman Torey Krug was part of the All-Rookie team.

For younger Bruins fans, probably the coolest part of the night was seeing Bergeron unveiled as the cover winner for the NHL 15 video game by EA Sports. The long drawn out voting process came down to him and Montreal defenseman PK Subban with Bergeron coming out on top of his Team Canada teammate.

None of this changes the fact that we were all very disappointed with the way this season ended-bowing out in seven games vs. the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Still, I think we have to appreciate all the hard work and incredibly consistent high level performances that went into these very legitimate awards. Plus, in Bergeron and Rask's case, they are both basically at the peak of their careers and I don't see that changing for at least the next few seasons. Obviously, Chara is theoretically on the down slope even though he's still playing at such a high level (he's 37!).

Remember that Bergeron and Rask were locked up with extensions last summer so I think we can be confident that they'll be in Bruins uniforms for the near future. That's something to give you confidence since with a nucleus like that, the B's should always be in the mix for the best trophy in all of sports-the Stanley Cup.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bruins' Revolving Door of Backup Goaltenders Continues to Spin

For the third season in a row, Bruins star goaltender Tuukka Rask will have a new backup sitting behind him. Following in the skates of Anton Khudobin (who had a nice season with Carolina in 2013-14) and Chad Johnson who was really good in his one season for Boston (17-4-3, 2 shutouts, 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage in 27 games), enter Swedish youngster Niklas Svedberg.

It is his time since he's only 24 and Boston signed him to a one-year, one-way deal worth $600,000 this afternoon. Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and he made the exact same amount as Svedberg just agreed to. You can bet that someone will overpay Johnson and who knows, he might even get to start at some point depending on where he ends up. Svedberg was signed as a free agent on May 29, 2012.

Svedberg's lone start last season with Boston was a 3-2 overtime win vs. Nashville when he made 33 saves. In Providence, he was 25-15-4 with 2.63 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 45 games. He split time with Malcolm Subban who undoubtedly will now be the guy for the Providence Bruins. It's time to see what Svedberg can do in the NHL since he's maxed out in the AHL: 66-27-6 in 102 games. In 2012-13, he was a breakout star for the Providence Bruins as they lost in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs (the 1st of 2 years in a row they'd do that).

The Bruins have plenty of needs: wingers that can score and mobile defensemen being at the top of the list but goaltending is the one area where (barring some major injury) they are in great shape with Rask, Svedberg and Subban in Providence.

Monday, June 23, 2014

2014-15 Bruins Regular Season Schedule Released

Does the NHL ever think before they do stupid things like unveil the schedule on a Sunday afternoon (the day after summer started), mere hours before the U.S. men's soccer team faced Portugal in a pivotal World Cup match? Both the NFL and to a lesser extent NBA have made this occasion special by devoting a specific night to this event and then hyping it up. I don't expect the NHL to have the marketing ability or brain power of those leagues but come on. End of rant.

It might seem like hockey season just wrapped up and in fact, it basically did since the Kings beat the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals less than two weeks ago. Sure the Bruins have been done for over a month (ugh) but things perk up this week with the NHL Awards on Tuesday (where the B's are expected to clean up) and the NHL Draft taking place on Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia. That all serves as a prelude to July 1 which is the start of free agency; if last year is any indication, that is probably the most exciting non-game day of the NHL calendar year.

The preseason is exactly three months away while Boston's regular season starts on October 8 at TD Garden vs. Philadelphia: that is one of four games around the NHL on Opening Night. The B's first road game is the next night in Detroit-the team that they eliminated in five games in the first round of the playoffs this past spring. Following Montreal's seven-game victory in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Bruins-Canadiens round one is on October 16 at the Bell Centre. The problem for Bruins fans is that the Patriots play the Jets that night as well on Thursday Night Football. I guess we'll worry about that viewing conflict as it gets closer.

November starts with four games in a row at the Garden (tied for their longest homestand of the season): Ottawa, Florida, Edmonton and New Jersey, blah! The Bruins make another trip to Montreal on November 13 before the Habs finally come to town on November 22. Pittsburgh follows that with a trip to the Garden on November 24. A slight change to the normal pattern: instead of playing on Black Friday afternoon, the B's host the Jets that night. I wonder if that means the Celtics will take the earlier timeslot or they are simply away?

December begins with a brutal four-game road trip: at Anaheim, LA, San Jose and finally Phoenix. The first Bruins-Blackhawks matchup (which are always must-see) is December 11 at TD Garden, sure to be one of the toughest/most expensive tickets to get this season. Boston meets Toronto on New Year's Eve night at the Garden.

There are a few interesting games in January as the Rangers come here on January 15. Boston goes to Dallas on January 20 to see Tyler Seguin and hopefully a healthy Rich Peverley. The Kings close out the month at the Garden on January 31.

For all the Seguinistas, your guy will be back in his old stomping grounds on February 10. Boston follows that with a trip to Vancouver on February 13, the Canucks' new GM is Jim Benning (who came over from the B's). That kicks off their longest road trip of the season: five games. Boston is in Chicago on February 22 for a Sunday afternoon game sure to be picked up by NBC.

As it always seems, March is a beast with 15 games in the month including four of the 16 back-to-backs from the campaign. It was smart having the Sabres meet the Bruins on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) at the Garden since only people that are blacked out would want to be at that game. The Ducks are in Boston on March 26 with the Rangers taking on their Original Six rivals two days later.

Four of Boston's five regular season games in April are on the road plus they end with three in a row away from home: at Washington, at Florida and at Tampa Bay (April 11).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Red Sox Sweep a 3-Game Series With Twins By Scoring 5 Total Runs

It was a complete grind, from the first inning on Monday night until the 10th inning this afternoon but the Red Sox somehow managed to sweep the Twins thanks to a thrilling 2-1 victory at Fenway Park in 10 innings. For the first time in franchise history, Boston (34-38 overall, 20-19 home) hit back-to-back homers in extra innings. David Ortiz tied it with his 16th of the season then Mike Napoli followed with a blast to center that just got out for his seventh of the season and ended it.

I can't ever recall a team playing worse offensively in a series than what Minnesota (32-38 overall, 17-21 away) turned in this week. After getting shut out on Monday, they managed only single runs on Tuesday and today. Red Sox fans were treated to a perfect baseball game: 86 degrees, 1:35 p.m. start and it only went 2 hours and 31 minutes. The win pulled Boston four games under .500 and just four games back in the Wild Card (yes it's mid-June) which makes me puke but hey, it's progress (5-2 homestand).

John Lackey was superb again, he went nine shutout innings, allowing only three hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. For whatever reason, Boston can never seem to score runs when he's on the mound this season similar to what happened with Jon Lester a few seasons ago. Lackey didn't factor into the decision but his ERA dipped to 2.96. I never thought I'd say this but he deserves to be an All-Star if he keeps this up.

Coming into a scoreless game in the 10th proved to be Koji Uehara's (2-1) kryptonite: he allowed a solo homer for the immortal Chris Parmelee (3 for 4). What made it even more strange is that he got the first two outs including a strikeout before Parmelee took him deep to right field. So he probably didn't deserve the win based on today's performance but call it a gift from his otherwise flawless campaign.

Twins youngster Kyle Gibson pitched about as well he you can if you're not named Clayton Kershaw. In seven innings, he allowed only one hit with eight strikeouts and no walks. I have no clue why Minnesota didn't use their solid closer Glen Perkins in the tenth when they had the 1-0 lead. He hadn't worked the last few nights but instead, Casey Fien (3-4) turned into the sacrificial lamb who allowed both bombs.

The Red Sox won't play at Fenway again until June 30 vs. Cubs. Before that, they have a grueling 10-game road trip covering Oakland (4 games), Seattle (3 games) and New York (3 games). All three of those teams are over .500 (yes even the Mariners) while the A's (44-28) have the best record in baseball and look the part. Boston took two of three at home against Oakland in the beginning of May but I feel like they always struggle on the West Coast.

Jake Peavy (1-4) faces Scott Kazmir (8-2, seriously) tomorrow night (10:05, NESN), Felix Doubront (2-4) returns on Friday (10:05, NESN) to face Jesse Chavez (6-4), Rubby De La Rosa (2-2) takes on Brad Mills (0-0) who makes his A's debut on Saturday afternoon (4:05, NESN) and Jon Lester (8-7) closes it out on Sunday afternoon (4:05, NESN) vs. Tommy Milone (5-3).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Well At Least Brock Holt Cares

The Red Sox absolutely still can't score runs but that's ok at the moment since their pitching has been great and they're playing the Twins who are equally terrible. After last night's 1-0 victory, Boston (33-38 overall, 19-19 home) took the middle game of the series 2-1 tonight at Fenway Park vs. Minnesota (32-37 overall, 17-20 away). It was the third time in a week that they'd scored less than three runs but won, that's pretty hard to do.

Brock Holt (2 for 4, double, 2 runs, stolen base) continued to be one of the only reasons to tune in to the Red Sox at least so this season. He made his MLB debut in center field this evening and obviously turned in a web gem with a diving catch after Jonny Gomes lost the ball in the twilight sky. Magically, he has turned into the leadoff hitter that the team desperately needed.

Jon Lester (8-7) is over .500 for the first time in 2014. He threw 33 pitches in the rocky first inning but hung in there to go 6.1 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk. Can Boston just sign him to the long-term deal that he deserves already?

Dustin Pedroia's (2 for 4) RBI double in the first scored Holt and Xander Bogaerts' sacrifice fly in the third plated Holt for the 2-0 lead. Joe Mauer's RBI double in the sixth provided Minnesota's lone run. Former Yankees bust Phil Hughes (7-3; 8 innings, 2 earned runs, 8 hits, 6 strikeouts, 0 walks) is really coming into his own with the Twins, not that anybody in the world has noticed.

Burke Badenhop and Craig Breslow each notched an out in the seventh before Junichi Tazawa struck out the side in the eighth for the hold (his 7th of the season). Koji Uehara was unavailable (rest) so Edward Mujica was called on for the save. Naturally the compete opposite of what you'd expect actually occurred: he had a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts for his second save as a Red Sox.

It isn't officially summer until Saturday but I say go with it since the weather is finally cooperating. This series wraps up tomorrow afternoon (1:35, NESN) with John Lackey (8-4) facing Kyle Gibson (6-5). Skip work, school or whatever and go to this matchup, mostly to enjoy the sun and see if the Red Sox can earn a rare sweep.

Boston won't return to Fenway until June 30 (vs. Cubs) since they head out on a 10-game road trip after tomorrow's matinee: four in Oakland, three in Seattle and three in New York vs. Yankees. That is a very tough stretch and if they hope to go anywhere this season, they have to at least win half of them.

An Appreciation Of Shawn Thornton

It is extremely rare for a fourth line winger to become one of the most popular players on a successful NHL team, even more unheard of for said guy to last seven years on the same club. Today, the Bruins informed Shawn Thornton that he wouldn't be re-signed for next season. At age 36 and coming off by far his most turbulent season with the B's, this wasn't a surprise. Still, it is painful for Bruins fans who had understandably grown uncommonly close to one of Boston's most accessible pro athletes.

He played short snippets of three seasons with Chicago (who knew?) and won a Cup in his one season in Anaheim but no matter where Thornton ends up after this (and he will be somewhere else come this fall, guaranteed), there is no doubt that the Bruins portion of his career will be the main highlight. Since 2007-08 (his first season in Boston), he put up 34 goals, 42 assists and 748 penalty minutes in the regular season. In the playoffs with the B's, he had a goal, six assists and 81 penalty minutes.

Obviously, his impact on the team and the city by extension goes so far beyond his stats. He was a leader and one of the most respected players on the team with a great sense of humor. The job of enforcer in the NHL is quickly disappearing but he took pride in it, especially since he's not the biggest guy and he was often fighting goons much bigger than him. Hockey is different than the other pro sports in the fact that we appreciate the role players more and they carve out a bigger role.

Thornton won his second Cup in 2011 as the Bruins beat the Canucks in seven games. One of the main things that people remember about the series and particularly Game 7 is that Boston's fourth line of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille were outstanding on every shift. Those latter two guys are still in Boston (for now at least) so it'll be interesting to see who they plug into Thornton's spot. Granted, it is highly unlikely that they could find someone that blends his skills and professionalism.

Perhaps sensing that his career in Boston was ending soon, Thornton had said this past season that Charlestown would always be home to him. I doubt that was lip service so you can bet that you'll see him around the city during the summer regardless of what NHL club currently employs him. Thanks for the memories Shawn!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Red Sox Beat Indians 5-2 in Series Opener at Fenway, See That Wasn't So Hard Guys

It still doesn't feel like summer (come on weather!) and the Red Sox are still scuffling like there's no tomorrow but at least they played well tonight. Boston (30-36 overall, 16-17 home) began a four-game series with Cleveland (33-34 overall, 12-23 away) and seven-game homestand at Fenway Park with a rare (in 2014) easy 5-2 victory.

Jon Lester (7-7) pitched like an ace, going 7.2 innings and allowing only two runs (one earned) on eight hits with four strikeouts and one walk. After Jason Kipnis (2 for 4) singled with two outs in the eighth, Lester was lifted after 109 pitches. Junichi Tazawa struck out the ghost of Carlos Santana (the baseball player) before a 1-2-3 ninth with one strikeout for Koji Uehara's 14th save (in 14 opportunities) of the season.

After the mediocre Indians swept the Red Sox last week in dumpy Cleveland, it was nice to see Boston come out with somewhat of a pulse as former Indians star Grady Sizemore had a ground-rule double in the second that scored Mike Napoli (2 for 4) for a 1-0 lead.

If any opposing manager in MLB could understand the danger of pitching to David Ortiz, you'd figure it would have to be Cleveland's Terry Francona (that still doesn't sound right) but for some odd reason, he let Josh Tomlin (4-3) go after him with two outs in the fifth and Jackie Bradley Jr. (single, walk, stolen base, 2 runs) on third base with first base open. You'll never guess what happened next! OK, a baby could, as Ortiz went deep to center for his 15th home run of the season and a 3-0 Red Sox advantage.

Cleveland's two runs in the sixth were a gift by multiple Red Sox as Lester couldn't handle a relatively easy throw at first base from Napoli then Kipnis lined a two-run single (generous ruling) under Dustin Pedroia's glove, a play that the Gold Glover normally makes in his sleep. Bradley Jr. made up for those miscues with an awesome catch of Michael Bourn's sinking line drive to center in the seventh then he doubled off "Friendly" Mike Aviles at first base for the third out.

Boston added a pair of insurance runs in the home half of the sixth on a two-run double by Brock Holt (2 hits). Daniel Nava was 3 for 4 in the win which is a monumental achievement given his alarming struggles in 2014. Even Jonathan Herrera got in on the act, well kind of, going 2 for 4 with a triple (his second extra base hit of the season!) and scoring a run.

It is supposed to rain all day tomorrow but if they get the game in, it will be John Lackey (7-4) vs. Justin Masterson (4-4) scheduled for a 7:10 p.m. start. Masterson pitched a gem (7 scoreless innings in a 3-2 win) against his former team last week at Progressive Field. He can't do that twice in a row, right?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

David Ortiz Saves the Day For the Millionth Time in His Red Sox Career

We all know that there currently is little reason to tune into Red Sox games. Still, once again David Ortiz proved to be must-watch TV whenever he steps to the plate. Boston (28-34 overall, 13-17 away) was headed to its sixth straight loss at Detroit's (33-26 overall, 16-15 home) Comerica Park until Ortiz connected for a go-ahead three-run bomb (his 14th of the season and 445th of his career) against former overhyped Yankee Joba Chamberlain (1-3). Joba rules got to be the Tigers closer for a night since Joe Nathan has been a mess this season.

They can't be too worried about the standings yet, however it should be noted that the Red Sox gained a game on all four of the other teams in the AL East since they all lost earlier in the day. Boston finally found a way to beat Detroit after starting 0-5 against everyone's pick to win the American League in 2014 (ever hear of Oakland?). It was the 27th game-tying or go-ahead hit in the ninth inning or later for Ortiz on Boston, the 16th that was a homer.

Ortiz will receive all the credit but a couple other guys kept the Red Sox in it, laying the foundation for his almost routine heroics (we are so spoiled). John Lackey (8 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned, 7 hits, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk) is still Boston's best starting pitcher while Brock Holt (4 for 5 with a triple and run) has morphed into Pedro Ciriaco circa 2012 (let's hope the team's season is a little different). Meanwhile, Mike Napoli returned with a bang: 3 for 4 with a solo homer in the sixth that tied it at two (his sixth of the season) and his first stolen base of the season. Oh and Koji Uehara pitched a 1-2-3 ninth on 13 pitches for his 12th save of the season, haha his ERA is 0.68 so I guess 2013 wasn't a complete fluke.

Dustin Pedroia gave his team a 1-0 lead in the third with a sacrifice fly. After that, Anibal Sanchez (6 innings, 2 earned runs, 6 hits, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks) kept the Red Sox in check except for Napoli's blast to right field. Tigers rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez (great name) provided a boost with RBI singles in the third and seventh inning. Victor Martinez put Detroit up 2-1 in the fourth with an RBI single. The greatest hitter of his generation-Miguel Cabrera-was 2 for 3 with a double and run before he tapped out in the sixth with a tight hamstring. It's too much to ask for him to be in shape I guess, at least as far as we know he's not a drunk anymore.

This victory means nothing if the Red Sox can't build up some positive momentum. They have been so schizophrenic: losing 10 games in a row, winning seven and dropping the last five before tonight's Sunday Night Baseball. Here's an idea: be more consistent. Toronto (38-26) looks like the team to beat this season in the AL East while Baltimore (31-30) and New York (31-31) are the epitome of average. Tampa Bay (24-40) is the one team I think that you can completely write off in the division, assuming you haven't done that already with Boston.

The Red Sox can chip away at their 3.5 game gap behind the Orioles beginning tomorrow night (7:05, NESN) at Camden Yards. Boston plays three games against Baltimore, the Red Sox are 4-3 so far in 2014 against the O's. Jake Peavy (1-3) faces Bud Norris (4-5) in the opener, Brandon Workman (0-0) opposes Chris Tillman (5-2) on Tuesday (7:05, NESN) and Rubby De La Rosa (1-1) takes on Wei-Yin Chen (6-2) on Wednesday (7:05, NESN) in the series finale.