Category: Sports

The Mets Can’t Catch a Break

File:New York Mets.svgFor sports teams in New York, the competition is always more than just within the division. The Yankees compete with the Mets, the Giants with the Jets, the Knicks with the Nets, and the Rangers with the Islanders and Devils, for attention and fan interest within the city, for ticket sales, for TV ratings, and for headlines in The Times, The Post, and the Daily News. For this reason, the Yankees and Mets are not afforded the luxury of being able to rebuild slowly through their farm system like the Red Sox or Phillies might. At least for the Yankees, they have produced results, winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009, and winning the American League Pennant in 2001 and 2003 as well. Since the Mets’ improbable (and devastating for Red Sox fans) World Series victory in 1986, they have only won the National League Pennant once… when they lost to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series.

Both teams have used the method of signing expensive free agents to bolster their rosters, but while the Yankees brought in guys like Jason Giambi, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, the Mets have overpaid for the likes of Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Johan Santana. The Yankees are in danger of missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995, while the Mets are have not made the playoffs since 2006, when they choked the National League Championship Series away against the eventual World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets’ ownership group ran into financial trouble after losing money to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and they lost good players like 2011 National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes to free agency. It looked like things would be turning around for the Mets, not for this season, but for the future, with the emergence of starting pitcher Matt Harvey.

Harvey was awesome this season. The 24 year old righty started the All-Star Game for the National League, which the Mets hosted. He’s been a bright spot for a mediocre Mets team, and with the circus going on in the Bronx all season, it gave people hope that the Mets might be better than the Yankees going forward while the Yanks continue to be weighed down by expensive contracts for aging and injury prone players. Then Harvey hurt his elbow this past week.

Harvey has an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his throwing elbow. It has yet to be determined whether or not he will undergo Tommy John Surgery to reconstruct his elbow, which would put him out for the entire 2014 season, but it’s bad news no matter what.  The Tommy John Surgery might make him a stronger thrower, but there’s always risk in a procedure like that. This is just business as usual for the Bad Luck Mets. Just when they have a legitimate young start to build around, he suffers a devastating injury.

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No Ace? No Problem (So Far)

Ever since Clay “J.D.” Bucholz last pitched in early June, the Boston Red Sox have been without a truly dominant starting pitcher. Bucholz, who has not pitched since his daughter slept on his shoulder awkwardly, has been out with shoulder soreness for two months, was off to the best start of his career. The Red Sox have been winning regardless. Clay is content to sit out through this injury while the rest of the Sox’ very average rotation plays through pain and gives their team a chance to win every night. It’s reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons team that won the NBA Finals without any legitimate superstars or the “No Name Defense” of the 70s Miami Dolphins.

As Red Sox fans, we used to hate John Lackey, as one of the faces of Fried-Chicken-and-Beer-gate, and for sounding like an excuse making Muppet, but he’s been a model of toughness this season. Jon Lester hasn’t been the dominant force he was when he was younger, but at least he takes the ball every fifth day. Ryan Dempster was a great pitcher in 2008, and newly acquired pitcher Jake Peavy won the National League Cy Young in 2007, but neither one is that pitcher anymore.

As the regular season goes on the Red Sox are still hanging on to first place in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays constantly knocking on the door. When the playoffs arrive, the Red Sox do not have a dominant starter that they could throw out there against someone like David Price or Max Scherzer and expect to win the matchup, but they have a lot of guys who can keep them in it if the offense holds up their end of the deal. Acquiring Peavy from the Chicago White Sox gave them depth in the starting rotation in case Bucholz does not return, but they still do not have someone with as electrifying stuff as Bucholz. The best hope is that the guys they have elevate to another level in the playoffs, although only Lester and Lackey have any kind of postseason success on their resumes.

Last week, Jake Peavy changed from White Sox to Red.

I was sad to see Jose Iglesias go to the Detroit Tigers in the three team trade that brought Peavy to Boston, but the Red Sox are confident in the depth at shortstop and third base in their farm system. Iggy will certainly help the Detroit, who lost their starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a season ending suspension for his connection o the Biogenesis scandal. Iglesias improves the Tigers’s infield defense and could take some of the load off reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera who is not the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball by anyone’s scale.

There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but the Red Sox are still in great position at the beginning of August. They started the month with two walk-off wins against the Seattle Mariners, and it seems like there is a different hero every night. Besides David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and the ailing Clay Bucholz, this is not a star-studded Red Sox roster, but they are making baseball fun again for the Fenway Faithful. These guys look like they actually enjoy playing baseball and it’s rubbing off on the fans. The malcontents Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford are long gone, and it’s just a hard working roster with low expectations that make us remember why baseball was fun to begin with. Ace or not, the Red Sox are still very much in it. They’ll be playing meaningful games in September and October if Clay ever wants to join them again.

State Newspaper in Red Sox Nation

With Peter Gammons reporting that John Henry will buy The Boston Globe, the landscape of Boston media is changing drastically. The most prestigious newspaper in New England will now be owned by the same guy who owns one of the most written about institutions in the region: the Boston Red Sox. How can this possibly be good news?

The newspaper industry is not what it used to be. When the New York Times Company purchased The Globe twenty years ago, it cost them over a billion dollars. Today, the asking price is 100 million… which is less than Henry will be paying second baseman Dustin Pedroia over the next eight years. The Red Sox (along with the Bruins) already own NESN, and it’s not easy finding negative viewpoints about the team on the sports talk radio station WEEI, so the purchase of The Globe likely means one less news outlet where fans can find objective reporting about the hometown ball club. There is still the Boston Herald and 98.5 The Sports Hub, but The Globe and Boston.com are too important to the city to fall into this trap.

I find it concerning that Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs were also linked to buying the paper. John Henry may be the one to do it, but the thought crossed the other owners’ minds as well.

Even if Henry doesn’t have an active role in the paper’s agenda, it will be hard to shake the perception that Henry’s Globe is a public relations publication for the Red Sox. The New York Times Company used to own a minority stake in the Red Sox, and I couldn’t help but call that business partnership into question (in an article I wrote for The Point at Fitchburg State University) with the way The Globe smeared Terry Francona on his way out the door. This new dynamic where any reporter or columnist thinking about criticizing the team would be criticizing their own boss in print is even worse for the integrity of the paper.

How long will someone like Dan Shaughnessy last in this new regime? Shaughnessy has made a career out of taking what the Boston teams tell us with a grain of salt. As fans, we may not always agree with what they say or write, but Boston is a better sports town because media members like Shaughnessy, Ron Borges, and Mike Felger are willing to be skeptical and ask the tough questions. There are a lot of talented sports writers at The Globe right now, but their journalistic integrity could be compromised by this.

Will the Red Sox get a higher priority in April than the Bruins and Celtics in the playoffs that same month? Will the Patriots make the back page before the World Series ends? There are too many questions like this that need to be asked, and the answers do not seem promising.

Ultimately, time will tell what will happen with John Henry, and The Boston Globe, but things do not look good right now. As bad as this may be for sports fans in Boston, at least he’s not buying up the media to sway an election or something, so it could be worse, right?

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Point Guard Problem

With the Boston Celtics making big changes to their roster this summer, the biggest issue going forward for the team is what to do with point guard Rajon Rondo. Currently recovering from season-ending knee surgery, Rondo no longer has the talent around him to make the Celtics a championship contender, but he himself might be too good of a player to allow the team to tank and get a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Next year’s draft is supposed to be the best draft since the LeBron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh/Carmelo Anthony draft in 2003, and there are a lot of terrible teams in the NBA, so tanking is not going to be easy.

Rondo, while very intelligent and very talented, has some major flaws in his game that would prevent him, in my opinion, from being the elite franchise player many Celtics fans think or hope he is. He is a bad shooter, which makes him a liability at the end of games since he is afraid to go to the three point line. While Rondo is a great performer in big games, his complacency in games that are not nationally televised is staggering. People seem to forget that before Rondo got hurt last season, the Celtics had a losing record and were out of the playoff picture. Rondo has gotten into conflicts with his coaches at every level, whether at the University of Kentucky or the Boston Celtics or Team USA. While he is talented, the idea of having him be your best player should scare Celtics fans.

One of the most frustrating things about Rondo’s game is that he’s found a way to make the assist into a selfish statistic. He is a phenomenal passer and his ability to distribute the ball adds a great dynamic to the Celtics’ offense. The problem is that sometimes it looks like he’s choosing the plays he makes based on what will most likely credit him with an assist and not necessarily the most efficient scoring play. Too many times I’ve seen him have an open look to drive to the hoop, only to make a flashy pass behind his back at the last second instead and risking a turnover instead of taking the easy two points that were in front of him. Rondo is also one of the most overrated defensive players in the NBA today a as he cheats and plays for the steal instead of focusing on the man he should be covering. These are fixable flaws, but NBA stars tend to get stubborn the longer they play and the more people tell them how great they are.

John Stockton: one of the best ringless players in NBA history.

The issues with Rondo being a franchise player go beyond Rondo himself. In recent years, it seems that basketball fans and writers have overrated and overvalued the point guard position. The last team whose best player was their point guard to win the NBA Finals was Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons in 1990. Take a look at the best PGs of the last 30 years excluding Thomas and Magic Johnson. John Stockton is the NBA’s all time assist leader and widely considered the best pure point guard (since Magic could play any position if needed) in the history of the game. Stockton has as many championship rings as I do. The same can be said for Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. While one of the best point guards of all time, Jason Kidd was 38 years old and the fourth or fifth best player on his team when he won his championship ring in 2011. Rondo’s one ring came as a young player and the fifth or sixth best player on the Celtics behind Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins, and (arguably) James Posey. Tony Parker is a great player and has three rings, but Tim Duncan has been the man in San Antonio as long as he has been there. For all the hype these players have gotten, it hasn’t amounted to championship glory when they were their team’s best player.

It will be interesting to see how the team handles their star point guard this season. They could sit him out for an extended period of time to make sure his knee is fully healed. New coach Brad Stevens will need to assert himself with a player notorious for undermining even established coaches like Doc Rivers and Mike Krzyzewski. If things are not going well, maybe the Celtics could move him at the trade deadline. It would be nice to have Rondo around to help the new lottery player the Celtics could potentially draft, but the prospect of Rajon Rondo being the leader and the best player in the next Celtics championship team seems far fetched.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I knew it was going to happen, but it still feels weird seeing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce holding up their new Brooklyn Nets jerseys. It’s obviously not the first time superstar players have changed teams, and it’s even the second time KG has done so, but here are some more pictures that just don’t look right because they’re not the colors you remember these players wearing:

Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs

Mike Piazza, Florida Marlins

Bobby Orr, Chicago Blackhawks

Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards

Jerry Rice, Seattle Seahawks

Ted Williams, Washington Senators

Mark Messier, Vancouver Canucks

Hakeem Olajuwon, Toronto Raptors

Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals

Harmon Killebrew, Kansas City Royals

Brian Leetch, Boston Bruins

Patrick Ewing, Seattle Supersonics

Randy Moss, Tennessee Titans

Babe Ruth, Boston Braves

Chris Chelios, Atlanta Trashers

Shaquille O’Neal, Boston Celtics

Levar Arrington, New York Giants

Frank Thomas, Toronto Blue Jays

Wayne Gretzky, St. Louis Blues

Karl Malone, Los Angeles Lakers

Wow. Remember when those guys played for those teams? Yeah, me neither.

Exit Sandman

In the days and weeks leading up to the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the narrative presented by sports media in Boston and around the country was that of a once great event, that has plummeted in TV ratings and is no longer something sports fans get excited about. They said making the outcome of the game determine home field advantage in the World Series. They said baseball had fallen out of the national discussion and would never catch the NFL or NBA again. They said kids these days don’t have the attention span for a sports without a time limit. In the eight inning on Tuesday night, the great Mariano Rivera reminded us why we used to love the Midsummer Classic.

Mo Rivera is a living legend. He is the greatest closer in the game has ever seen. He is a five team World Series champion who has played his entire major league career for the New York Yankees. He is the last player to wear the number 42, after MLB stopped issuing it in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson. He is easily the best baseball player his homeland of Panama has ever produced.  As a lifelong Red Sox fan, he was always a player I was afraid to see come into the game because I knew what he was capable of–a very different kind of fear than what I get whenever the Red Sox’ closer of the day takes the mound. Mo is a model of consistency, and a true professional in every sense of the word. He, along with Derek Jeter, was always yearned  to see in a Red Sox uniform, and as America rolled on like an army of steamrollers, with Rivera marking the time (enough with the baseball cliches already!) he became impossible for even the most passionate Sox fan to hate. It seemed like he would pitch forever, which is why it was such a shock when he announced this spring that this season would be his last.

Credit needs to be given to American League (and Detroit Tigers) manager Jim Leyland for deciding ahead of time that Mo would pitch the eighth inning no matter what. With the National League being the home team, there was a chance that the game could end before the bottom of the ninth, and Rivera might not have gotten this last hurrah. In the bottom of the eighth, Mo’s entrance song “Enter Sandman” began playing and Rivera was the lone player to take the field. Players from both leagues stayed in the dugouts to give him a standing ovation. Yankees fans and Mets fans alike were on their feet to salute one of the all time greats and genuine class acts the National Pastime has ever seen. Though an international superstar and an icon in North America’s largest city, Rivera never let his fame get to him. He tipped his hat to the crowd, appreciating them as much as they appreciated him. He recorded a perfect inning and ended his All-Star career with an unforgettable moment. That’s baseball. That’s what it’s all about.

The reason we still have an All-Star Game is for moments like this. With cable TV and the Internet, you could watch and follow any team from anywhere in the country if you wanted to, so it’s no longer the once chance to see the stars from the other league. It is, however, a chance for legends to be appreciated with the whole world watching. My favorite All-Star moments as a kid were when Ted Williams threw out the first pitch at Fenway in 1999, when Pedro Martinez struck out five of the six juiced up batters he faced that same year, and when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run in his All-Star swan song in 2001. Rivera’s final All-Star Game ranks right up there. The game also does a great job of showcasing the next generation of superstars. Rivera, Jeter, and David Ortiz will not be around forever, but there is a lot for baseball fans to be excited about with guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado taking their places.

Thanks for the memories, Mo. The game is losing a true great, and I’m sad to see you go. Then again, I never tried to hit your cutter, so I’m sure most of the hitters in the American League don’t feel the way I do.

Lincecum’s No-No

Last night San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim “The Freak” Lincecum threw the first no hitter of his already impressive career against the lowly San Diego Padres. Lincecum is a two time National League Cy Young Award winner as well as a two time World Series Champion who has spent his entire big league career in San Fran. Although he has not been the same dominant force that he was earlier in his career, this no-no is a strong statement that he’s not done yet and can still fire bullets.

The easy comparison to Lincecum in baseball history is Pedro Martinez. Pedro and Timmy were both little skinny guys who could really throw heat. Both of them made baseball more exciting every time they took the mound. Pedro, was for a five or six year period, the most dominant pitcher in baseball. What was perhaps most impressive about him was that the little guy did his best work in the height of the Steroid Era where the home run balls were flying like a flock of pigeons getting chased by a dog or a small child. Pedro couldn’t pitch at that level forever as his electric delivery really did a number on his throwing shoulder. Since winning the Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher in 2008 and 2009, and winning the World Series in 2010, I figured it would only be a matter of time before The Freak’s body started to break down. In 2012, when the Giants won their second World Series since moving to San Francisco, Lincecum had struggled as a starter in the regular season and was limited to pitching out of the bullpen during the playoffs. While he helped bolster the Giants as a whole, and made their relief squad the best bullpen in all of baseball, it sent up a red flag to any team who might be interested in signing him as a free agent in 2013.

In the no-hitter, Lincecum threw a career high 148 pitches and struck out nine batters. His 5-9 record and 4.26 earned run average have been less than stellar this season, but he is also sixth in the National League in strikeouts, so his record could be attributed to the Giants’ poor performance as a whole during the first half of the season. This could be the game that revitalizes Lincecum’s career, as well as the Giants’ season.

The defending champs are currently seven games below .500, but have won three straight. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, and the combination of the winning streak, the no hitter and the upcoming All Star break, where Bruce Bochy will be managing the National League squad, this could be the spark that the Giants need to go on a run. Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, and these Giants have certainly been there before. There are more holdovers from last year’s Wold Series team than any defending champions in since free agency began in Major League Baseball. It’s still way to early to count Frisco’s comeback kids out just yet.