In case you were busy not making up with Sergio Garcia, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Detroit overcame a Patrick Kane third-period goal, as the Red Wings topped the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, to take a 2-1 series lead in their Western Conference semifinal matchup. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville held himself responsible for the loss, explaining, "I motivated our team before Game 1 by having them all watch Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Worked like a charm. Then I'm like, boom, stick with Scott, but emphasize teamwork: Black Hawk Down. But they all got hung up on the title. Mixed message on my part. OK, Game 3, Prometheus. Huge mistake. Movie makes no sense. Totally lost control of the team." When asked if there were any actual tactical or line adjustments he would implement, Quenneville said, "I'm this close to going with Thelma & Louise before Game 4 just to mix things up."
In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In case you were busy being the guy who started icing bros again, much to the chagrin of everyone who knows you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets gave the Thunder their best shot, overcoming a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit, but Oklahoma City held on late to win, 105-102, to take a 2-0 series lead. When asked how he and his team would recover from the defeat, Harden said, "Oh, we won't. It's over." When asked if he was serious, Harden replied, "Have you seen Kevin Durant play basketball? I mean, playing with him, you know he's good, but playing against him? No, no, this is done." When asked again if he was serious, Harden replied, "Yes, I'm dead serious. We might not even go back to Houston. We're just going to pack it in." When asked again if he was serious, Harden shook his head. Then he nodded. Then he shook his head again. Then he shrugged.
Tony Parker had 28 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-91. "We are ahead by two games," Parker, a noted French person, said after the game, twitching visibly. "But I do not care an iota. The degree to which I care is so infinitesimal as to be not a thing at all, as my very existence has been laid bare by a new team policy banning smoking during the postseason. What is it to make policy anyway? To say, 'I know a thing and you must behave thusly.' How much false arrogance must live in the mind of a man who believes he knows a thing? When the mind is mere electricity that wants wants it wants a smoke so bad, I just want one drag, just one, just please one drag. Oh, I am no more than a dog!" Parker then let out a cry of lamentation before closing his eyes and willing a Gauloises into existence between his fingers. He then added with a wink, "One cannot know of policies if one cannot know, yes?"
In case you were out avoiding any Coachella spoilers before the second weekend of the music festival, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday, and wow, WOW, wow, what a schedule it is! Not only will every team currently in the NFL play 16 games, but each of these teams will have a strategically placed bye added to their schedule. Additionally, some teams will be playing one or more games on non-Sunday days such as Mondays and Thursdays. Interestingly, no games this year are scheduled for Tuesdays. Marquee matchups include games between last year's division winners, last year's Super Bowl participants, teams that have quarterbacks people have heard of, and members of the NFC East. Early analysis suggests that the NFL schedule favors those teams that play mostly inferior teams, with the caveat that those favored teams might themselves prove inferior in the future. More NFL schedule–related analysis later in About Last Night, including a prediction you're not going to believe!
Eric Chavez got revenge on his former teammates with a three-run double to key the Arizona Diamondbacks' 12-inning 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. The Yankees also got more bad news on the injury front, as shortstop Derek Jeter has been ruled out until the All-Star break with complications related to his injured ankle. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after the game, "Tonight's loss was tough, as was the news on Derek, but we'll persevere." Cashman then kept repeating the word persevere, as he stripped down to his underwear before asking the gathered media, "Does anyone have that Swedish House Mafia song on their phone? Cause I could really go for getting weird right now." Cashman then had assistant general manager Jean Afterman flick the lights in the room on and off while he danced arrhythmically before collapsing in a heap of tears.
In case you were busy living on easy street wait — OH, I FORGOT ABOUT MY TAXES — here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Boston Red Sox rode a seven-run second inning to cruise to a 7-2 win over the host Cleveland Indians. Red Sox starter Felix Doubront, who got the win after throwing five solid innings, said, "With everything that happened yesterday, I was just out there pitching for the name on the front of the jersey today, not on the back. Which really helped, because even I have trouble pronouncing my last name. It's Doo-Braunt, by the way I think. I'm pretty sure. Like 99 percent. Don't hold me to that until I call my ma, though."
Veteran starter Dan Haren gave up seven runs in 4⅓ innings as the Washington Nationals fell to the Miami Marlins, 8-2. After the game, a shell-shocked Haren said, "I gave up a home run today to Adeiny Hechavarria. I got shelled by the Miami Marlins. Sometimes it's hard to know when it's over. This is not one of those times." He then announced the immediate opening of Haren Buick, Haren Chevrolet, and Haren Kia/Hyundai, which he hoped would become the Southern California destination for peoples' Buick, Chevrolet, Kia, and Hyundai needs.
Last year, Jason Motte was one of the best and most reliable closers in the game, racking up 42 saves, nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.75 ERA. He signed a two-year, $12 million contract in January, and was widely expected to have another big year banking saves for a playoff-contending Cardinals team.
We'll let the excellent news and analysis site Rotowire.com take it from here:
MARCH 23: Motte has what the club is describing as a "mild strain" in his right elbow that will keep him off the mound for at least a week as the team explores the severity of the injury and potential treatments, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. General manager John Mozeliak said Motte will "likely" start the season on the disabled list with the flexor strain.
On Wednesday, I covered 15 players with compelling backstories who've been invited to spring training with American League clubs. Per that article: "These are the NRIs, the non-roster invitees promised almost nothing — not a job, not a major league deal, nothing more than a chance to come to camp, overcome often astronomical odds, and somehow make the Opening Day roster."
Even after they had contended all season, even after their starting rotation took off in the second half, even after a five-game winning streak in early August propelled them into a three-way tie for the wild card, the Orioles didn't have many believers. They had crushed preseason expectations, reaped surprise contributions from multiple players, but still had many question marks, especially with their leaky defense on the corners.
That's when Baltimore called up top prospect Manny Machado and the team took off from there. Wilson Betemit, the butcher who had taken over the starting third-base job from fellow butcher Mark Reynolds, got shoved to the bench. And while the 20-year-old Machado showed some holes in his swing, he also came through with some big moments, with the bat and especially withtheglove. The O's went 33-18 the rest of the way, storming to their first playoff berth in 15 years.
Finding two prospects who can dominate as quickly as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did last year might be a challenge. Still, this year's prospect crop is another impressive one, and one filled with players who could play a big role in this season's pennant races. With that in mind, we decided to count down the 16 players most likely to impact those races — the Machados, if you will.
Upton and veteran third baseman Chris Johnson will head to Atlanta in the deal. In return, Arizona acquired Martin Prado, a productive infielder/outfielder who'll play third for the D-backs, along with 22-year-old right-hander Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers: Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury.
In baseball, a win is a win except when it's more than a win.
One extra victory for a 100-loss team will mean virtually nothing, little added revenue, no better hope for a playoff chance. The same goes for a 100-win team: In today's 10-team playoff system, sweating over win number 101 or 102 makes little sense, since you're almost certainly in the playoffs, probably winning your division, and most likely claiming home-field advantage throughout if you reach triple digits.
There is, however, a sweet spot for wins, where each one added to a team's ledger greatly improves the odds of a playoff berth. That sweet spot changes every year. In 2012, the two playoff teams that won the fewest games were the NL wild-card winning Cardinals and AL Central champion Tigers, cracking the postseason with 88 wins apiece. So all else being equal, an 89th win for the wild-card runner-up Dodgers or AL Central second-place White Sox would've carried an extraordinary amount of weight.
The Diamondbacks negotiated a trade with the Mariners last week, one that would have netted a strong package of young talent. But when the two teams finally agreed to the deal, the trade's centerpiece vetoed it. Which means the D-backs are right back in the same position they've been in for much of the past several months: trying like mad to trade Justin Upton.
There are several perfectly defensible reasons to deal him. The Diamondbacks have the National League's biggest outfield logjam, with Jason Kubel, Cody Ross, Gerardo Parra, and top prospect Adam Eaton all joining Upton in being major league–ready outfielders seeking regular playing time. We'll ignore for the moment that said logjam is largely self-imposed, that after flipping Chris Young and his eight-figure salary to Oakland (thus giving the A's the AL's deepest outfield) Arizona figured it'd make sense to give Ross a three-year deal to fill a hole that didn't exist. The D-backs also have bigger holes to fill elsewhere, with adequate but uninspiring incumbent Chris Johnson this season's projected starting third baseman; shortstop isn't ideal, either, with banjo-hitting veteran Cliff Pennington the expected Opening Day starter and all-glove/little-bat prospect Didi Gregorius waiting in the wings, but surely GM Kevin Towers isn't so trigger-fingered that he's going to make a third trade for a shortstop in three months, right? Finally there's Upton himself, a maddeningly inconsistent player if you look at his year-to-year numbers since taking over the everyday right-field job five years ago:
There are mitigating factors here. A shoulder injury hurt his production in 2010, and an early-season thumb injury was so debilitating at the start of the year that Upton was hitting just .221/.317/.328 as late as mid-May. Still, there might be something more at play. Industry buzz claims Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers isn't a big Upton fan; no one knows exactly why, though some rival executives have speculated that D-backs brass don't see Upton as a "winning player," whatever that means.
His sometimes unpredictable numbers aside, Upton is still a 25-year-old masher with ample upside and three years and $38 million left on his contract, making him one of the most desirable trade commodities in the game. So when Arizona's obsession with trading Upton advanced beyond the rumor stage, we probably shouldn't have been surprised to see the Mariners reportedly offering a package that would have contained one of Seattle's top three pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, or Danny Hultzen), top shortstop prospect Nick Franklin, plus a pair of live-armed relievers in Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor. With that trade rejected, you have to wonder: Have the Diamondbacks lost their leverage?
In case you were out pretending like you've seen and have an opinion about Oscar nominee Amour, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Cleveland Browns have filled their vacant head coaching position, hiring Rob Chudzinski away from the Carolina Panthers. It has also been reported that Chudzinski is targeting former San Diego head coach Norv Turner to be his new offensive coordinator. "I can't imagine a more Cleveland set of hirings than Chud and Norv," said longtime Browns fan Milt Johnson. When asked to try harder and really push his imagination, Johnson let out an exasperated sigh, saying, "Fine, I guess that they could have hired like Chan Gailey and an old, overweight Golden Retriever named Honey, but I don't really know how having a dog as an offensive coordinator would work."
The Red Sox are rumored to be interested in Cody Ross, which makes no sense for a team that already has every outfield position and DH covered unless Jacoby Ellsbury's on the block. The problem with an Ellsbury trade, which has also been rumored, is finding a suitable trade partner. The 29-year-old center fielder should get a healthy raise in arbitration following an $8 million salary in 2012. Problem is, he's coming off an injury-wracked season in which he hit a measly .271/.313/.370 and played in just 74 games. He's also a free agent after next season. So you've got a player with a solid argument for 2011 MVP who tanked the next season, now stands to make eight figures, offers only one year of team control, and would likely require a quality pitcher in return. It's baseball, so we should never say never. But if Boston's going to add pitching during or after the Winter Meetings, it might very well be via a straight free-agent signing, rather than a trade.