What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I’ll tell you what I see. I see the purest of friendships, an unbreakable bond, forged by hundreds of millions of after-practice route-running sessions and a joint chiponmyshoulderness born of lives defined by slights. It just isn’t right, what happened. If we can’t believe in Tom and Wes, what’s left to believe in?
The fallout between Welker and Belichick (who clearly hates love in all its forms), along with Brady’s unhappiness and the whole situation’s ugly turn, deserved the attention it received. But underplayed in all this, somehow, was not only that Welker was leaving — he was running straight into the arms of Brady’s greatest rival. It could’ve been anyone. But no, it had to be Peyton Manning.
In this loyal-free era of sports, we see defections like this all the time, but with Welker, I want to believe it was about more than business. I want to believe that what happened with New England was a personal affront, that he chose Denver to stick it to Belichick, and that all this talk about feeling like a rookie again is an effort to make Brady jealous. Until I hear otherwise, that’s what I’m going with. And I can’t wait for Wes Welker to be the Adam Banks of the NFL.
By the way, the Broncos visit Foxboro in Week 12, when I can only assume those teams are going to be a combined 17-3 and battling it out for home-field advantage. I've got to assume that all this comes up that week. Just a hunch, though.
And we are BACK, with your all-purpose* guide to the weekend in MLB action.
*Single-purpose, really. It's super limited in function. You can only read it.
10. no. 2 UNC vs. no. 3 Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m. and Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN3)
Whoa! Super controversial start! Who is this guy? He must think way outside the box to be including a college baseball game in a post specifically dedicated to MLB. What a challenging artistic choice! I imagine people will have split reactions, but it'll definitely get them talking!
OK, this is here because college baseball gets zero attention, and this is a great series. UNC is 46-7 and UVA is 44-8. Both teams have gaudy statistics; the lowest batting average among UNC's top nine hitters is .278, while the Cavs aren't far behind. But the real attraction here is Carolina's pitching staff, which boasts a 2.50 ERA. Benton Moss and Hobbs Johnson are the starters for the weekend, and we could see both in the bigs someday soon. Anyway, if you're ever going to watch a college baseball game before the College World Series, this is a good start. And I swear, the fact that I'll be at one or both games has nothing to do with why I included it here. (Lies.)
With a looping back-post header well into stoppage time, Branislav Ivanovic turned Benfica goalkeeper Artur into a statued spectator and gave Chelsea FC a 2-1 win in the Europa League final. The easy explanation for Americans not well versed in the various continental soccer competitions is to call it Europe's NIT. It's a lesser tournament that nobody really cares about until someone else wins it.
But even that analogy is not really accurate. When Kansas inevitably gets bounced from the NCAA basketball tournament in the Sweet 16, there isn't a consolation spot waiting for them in the NIT. That's effectively how Chelsea won a trophy Wednesday.
On today's show, The Basketball Jones preview and predict the Western Conference finals. They also discuss George Hill's injury, Mike Woodson finally playing Chris Copeland, guys who have boosted their free-agency stock, whether Paul Pierce has played his last game in a Celtics uniform, the Kings staying in Sacramento, and the NBA's best and worst mascots.
All that, plus swirling winds, The Office, tiny "Baby Birdman," and more on crepes.
Rooting for a perpetually hopeless franchise will drive you insane for a number of reasons. You know this. But you know when it gets really bad? The playoffs, when you have to watch players your team passed up dominate on another team. Actually that's not it, either. It gets REALLY bad when you watch someone like Kawhi Leonard dominating for the Spurs and realize that this never would've happened if he'd landed with your team.
This epiphany is the most crushing truth of them all.
I'm speaking from experience as a Wizards fan, and after a month of watching the NBA playoffs, we need to talk about this for a minute. The Wizards passed on Leonard to draft Jan Vesley in 2010. It seemed crazy at the time and has only gotten worse as the years have passed. But if we're being honest here, watching Leonard blossom into a two-way star for the Spurs isn't even what's frustrating. It's knowing that if Vesley had been the one who was drafted by the Spurs, he'd probably turn into a weapon for years to come, and if Leonard went to the Wizards, he'd probably turn into an über-athletic wing with limited skills who becomes indistinguishable from about 50 other wing players in the NBA.
On Thursday night, Barry Derr was reminded in stark metaphorical terms of his place in the entertainment pecking order. Thousands had come to downtown Los Angeles to see the big matchup: Candice versus Kree on American Idol. Barry and a few dissidents had come for Kings versus Sharks, a second-round NHL playoff game. The idols were greeted by a wide red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre, where teleprompters spit out inane questions (“What’s going on down there on the red carpet?”), and entertainment correspondents wore heavy makeup. The Kings had a deejay playing “Sweet Home Alabama.” Someone had strung up balloons. “If you’re born in L.A.,” Barry said, “you gotta fight to see a hockey game.”
You could forgive Kings fans for feeling like members of an out-of-the-way cult. This is partly because their team plays at Staples Center, which is nestled in a vast entertainment complex called L.A. Live and is just steps from the Nokia Theatre. L.A. Live is a place where TV shows are filmed so they can be shown to the West Coast on tape delay. It is also a favored site of movie premieres and VIP visits. Thus, a Kings fan leaving Staples often finds himself encountering Twilight fans who have bivouacked for the premiere, or emissaries from the South Korean presidential delegation. The two groups stare at one another as in a first-contact moment on Star Trek.
After years of seeing poor receivers like Ryan Doumit cost them strikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin to the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history over the winter. According to Baseball Prospectus analyst Max Marchi’s pitch-framing statistics, Martin, a converted infielder who worked hard at becoming a better receiver, ranks fourth among major league catchers with more than 105 runs saved because of framing from 2008 to present, or roughly 0.23 runs per 100 pitches. Pittsburgh’s two-year, $17 million commitment is already paying dividends. With Martin behind the plate picking up extra strikes, the Pirates had their best April since 1992, the last season they were a winning team. I caught up with Martin to find out how he does it before a game at Citizens Bank Park.
With PITCHf/x in the past few years, people have tried to put a value on turning a ball into a strike, and what the best catchers are worth. Have you seen those stats? Have you noticed more emphasis on it from teams or coaches?
It’s been talked about more. It never really used to be talked about. I’ve always known that it makes a big difference, just looking at the greats over the years that have been really good receivers, but there’s never been an association with numbers. It’s kind of hard to put a value on it. It’s hard to illustrate.
This is a plot of the called strikes for all the Pirates pitchers. The first image is the last five seasons, and then the second image is this season. The red area is where the called strikes are. This season it’s been a much bigger blotch than the last five seasons, so that seems to suggest that might be you doing something.
Short sample right now, though.
But yeah, sure.
It seems like the main difference is on the top and bottom there. Is there an area that you feel like you’re most able to get those extra strikes?
Probably bottom-middle of the zone. I’ve always been pretty good at getting that pitch.
The Senators and Penguins opened their second-round series Tuesday night, with Pittsburgh claiming an early series lead thanks to a 4-1 win on home ice.
The no. 1-seeded Penguins are the consensus favorites over the 7-seed Senators, but nobody would be surprised if the series turned out to be a long one. In the end, it may come down to which team can manage an edge in the key matchups.
Which key matchups, you ask, since you assume that’s what you’re supposed to do? Good question! Here are a dozen battles to watch as the series resumes on Friday night.
Chris Ryan: With about nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Spurs holding on to a slipping six-point lead over the Warriors, Stephen Curry raced up the court off an Andrew Bogut rebound. Curry is not a normal point guard, so the normal rules of playing the position don't apply to him. This of course, is part of the fun of watching Stephen Curry over the last couple of weeks. He played like ... Stephen Curry, showing off a skill set so unique, on a pair of ankles so brittle, it felt like you were watching some endangered species. Like you sat down in your living room and boom, what in the shit, there was an Iberian lynx.
Everyone remembers that feeling on the first day of school. Rolling up in that brand-new collared shirt and the impossibly clean shoes. Not thinking, but knowing that, yeah, this is going to be my year. There was something reassuring about seeing everyone back together again. This isn’t new. I’ve been here before. I’ve got this. In those first couple days, the possibilities seemed endless.
For NFL players, that’s OTAs. After a few months away, everyone’s finally back in the same place, and the prospect of starting anew, well ... it tends to get people a little overexcited. This is the time of year reserved for baseless, outrageous predictions by groups of pathologically competitive men drunk on football and hope. With that in mind, we present the 2013 NFL season, based on nothing but those baseless, outrageous predictions.
It’s a clear and crisp 55-degree day in Cleveland, and as the first half comes to a close, the only thing that’s been more perfect than the weather is Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins quarterback got himself a fresh buzz cut this week, and in those new Fins unis, damn, does he look immaculate. That chin is what comes to mind when you think Franchise Quarterback.
This this was not a fun, attractive, or well-played NBA game. The Pacers, turnover-prone all season and barely able to handle the ball without George Hill, committed 19 turnovers and seemed to be on the verge of losing the ball on every possession. The Knicks committed 30 fouls, about 10 more than the average team commits in a game, and at one point in the third quarter, I think every player had at least four fouls. It was truly awful. There were so many low points that the entire game transformed during some third-quarter nadir into a 48-minute-long low point.
It happened around the 4:45 mark of the third quarter, where my meticulous notes about X's and O's and crowd tomfoolery abruptly stop and transition into a single harrowing sentence: “I have no idea what is going on right now.”
In case you were busy doing hilarious takes to a nonexistent camera when your friends and associates said absurd things, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a conclusion to a magnificently contested series that makes me wish to wax poetic, the San Antonio Spurs overcame a poor shooting night from their backcourt to oust the Golden State Warriors from the NBA playoffs with a 94-82 Game 6 win. Despite its premature end, twas a series in which all of the participants were worthy of the title warrior, even those generals who bestrode the sideline battling with their wits rather than their bodies. Sing oh muses of the ankle of Steph Curry, son of Dell, which brought countless ills first to his enemies, and then to himself! Such was the sovereign doom of a cursed team, and the will of Stern writ large: There shall be contested yet between famed warriors The Bron and Timothy Who Dunks a Finals that shall split the world in twine!
In a non-conclusion to an adequately contested series that makes me wish to speak plainly, the Knicks kept their hopes of an Eastern Conference finals showdown with Miami alive, beating a depleted Pacers team, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden. "Just taking it one day at a time," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after the game, "because if we do more than that we'll become aware that the winner of this series gets the Heat and oh, no that's terrible! The winner of this series gets the Heat! Oh no, they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Oh man, they also have Chris Bosh. Why did I stop taking it one day at a time? Why?"
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.