There’s an understanding among baseball fans who can read and do math that relief pitchers are pretty much interchangeable. Certainly not all relievers — some are consistently good, like Mariano Rivera, while others are consistently awful, like Josh Lindblom. But in general, one relief pitcher is going to pitch so few innings over the course of a given year that a great bullpen isn’t a foundation to build on, but rather the last piece of a championship puzzle. And even then, relief pitcher performance varies wildly from year to year. Consider the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, who won the World Series thanks, in part, to one of the best bullpens in the game. Then consider what Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin were doing even one year later.
One exception to this rule is the 2011-12 Atlanta Braves, whose bullpen performed wonders. The poster boys for Atlanta’s late-inning run prevention were closer Craig Kimbrel and lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters. In 2011, O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel were first, third, and fifth, respectively, among Braves pitchers in WAR. In 2012, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty were second and fifth. Put another way, in the past two years the Braves had three different relievers post three-win seasons. That’s ridiculous.
Since the start of the 2011 season, O’Flaherty has appeared in 161 regular-season games, 55 of them on less than a day’s worth of rest. Venters appeared in 151 games, 49 of them after having pitched the day before. And last week, we found out that both of them would be headed for Tommy John surgery — in Venters’s case, for a second time.
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 discovering something magical, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The New York Knicks blew out the Indiana Pacers, 105-79, behind 32 points from Carmelo Anthony to even their second-round series at a game apiece. "Now I will grant an exclusive interview to any member of the New York media who didn't write our epitaph after Game 1," Anthony announced after the game while sipping an ice-cold Diet Coke. But no one in the New York press stepped forward. "Come on, anyone? OK, how ’bout anyone who didn't call me Car-Smell-O." But again there was only silence. "Um, anyone who didn't personally insult my family?" Howard Beck of the New York Times then raised his hand to ask if cousins counted, but Anthony granted him the interview before Beck had the chance to clarify.
Craig Kimbrel gave up back-to-back home runs with two outs in the ninth inning as the Cincinnati Reds shocked the Atlanta Braves, 5-4. "I'd be more ashamed if it weren't the Reds," Kimbrel explained after the game. "They were cool, which is what I think of when I think of things wrapped in red-and-white. They were ice-cold. You could throw six of them in a cooler, take ’em on a picnic, and have a hell of a day. As an Atlanta man, that's just an instinct for me at this point."
In case you were busy making a new nonalcoholic mixed drink that's half soda water, half tonic water called the Van de Velde, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Playing without Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Kirk Hinrich was too much for the Bulls, who fell 95-92 to the Brooklyn Nets. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau regrettably informed his team of their depleted forces before the game, adding, "I didn't know the games were optional." He then proceeded to drink straight from a bottle of Gilbey's gin, tell Taj Gibson that he wanted to sleep with his sister, and unleash a barrage of awkwardly profuse "real talk about love and pain" upon the injured Hinrich. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer then yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the booze stank in the room?!" before being told by Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin that games are not optional. A visibly intoxicated Boozer fouled out of his team's defeat in the fourth quarter.
Even though he had another solid outing, Atlanta starter Kris Medlen fell to 1-4 as his Braves lost to the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Medlen, snacking on biscuits after the game, blamed his spotty start to the season on fatigue based on his home life. "I've got young boys, and they're up at all hours," he said. "I've only been a little off, which just makes me think I could be 5-0 if it weren't for those Medlen kids!"
For as long as people have written words on the Internet, there's been a baseball snarkiarchy. This devoted group of provocateurs has made a sport of mocking numerous players over the years. Often analytically inclined, they home in on a certain kind of player, prolific outmakers who get too much playing time, too much money, or both, because some team doesn't recognize what an on-base percentage black hole can do to a lineup. For years, the snarkiarchy targeted Neifi Perez. Then it was Jeff Francoeur. And while Francoeur remains one of the biggest hackers and worst everyday players in the game, he may have ceded the throne as the baseball intelligentsia's most mockable player to Yuniesky Betancourt.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
The Brooklyn Nets took care of business at home, beating the Chicago Bulls, 110-91, to force a return trip to Chicago. Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 28 points and added 10 rebounds, said after the game, "I dedicated my game to fellow tall Stanford alumnus and twin, Jason Collins, for his bravery today. I have nothing but love." Lopez then hung his head and added, "Unfortunately, I let him down by amassing a large number of points and rebounds. If you're listening, Jason, I'm sorry. But also, I'm really proud of you. I'll try to contribute in fewer tangible ways next game."
In case you were busy on eBay trying to unload your Tim Tebow Jets jersey, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The San Antonio Spurs dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-82, to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Lakers center Dwight Howard, who was ejected from the game after getting two technical fouls, said after the game, "Gotcha! Oh, man, that was hilarious! Classic Howard. I was all like, 'T me up! I totally want to never play basketball in a Lakers uniform again,' and they totally did! Joke's on them! I'm pranking people left and right! L.A. is Prank City!" When asked if this meant he was going to re-sign with L.A., Howard's demeanor quickly shifted. "Absolutely not," he said. "This has been the worst year of my life."
Stephen Curry drained six 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 115-101 in a pivotal Game 4. "Do I feel threatened by Curry? Absolutely not; my legacy is intact," said TNT analyst Reggie Miller after the game. Miller then wiped the steam off his bathroom mirror and examined his temples. Were they grayer than the day prior? "Perhaps," Miller said to himself, "but that just means you're getting wiser. More mature. And some punk kid in Oakland can't take that away from you."
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
"There was a start last June, in Arizona, and " Paul Maholm started to laugh before I could finish the sentence. In general, the first 14 starts of his 2012 season went poorly. But his June 23 outing against the D-backs was the worst of them all: 3⅓ innings, three walks, nine hits, seven runs. "It was one of those days where you have nothing," Maholm recalled, shaking his head.
That disastrous start in the desert left the left-hander with a 5.38 ERA for the season. In a very ordinary career that spanned from slightly below average to slightly above average, this was the low point. Two days later, Paul Maholm turned 30 years old. On that blessed day, Jamie Moyer descended from the mountaintop, handed Maholm the crafty lefty's guidebook to success and eternal life, then disappeared into the ether. And yea did Maholm ascend to greatness.
It's conceivable that Maholm's incredible performance since then is grounded in tangible adjustments rather than a visit from the Prophet Moyer. But the scope of Maholm's rise invites the highest of superlatives. In 140 innings since his Chase Field meltdown, Maholm has struck out 116 batters, walked 36, and allowed just 10 homers and 111 hits. His ERA during that stretch: 2.25. That's better than Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, or any other starting pitcher (with a comparable number of innings pitched) over that span.
We're back for 2013, and my only hope is that this is the year we finally have a quadruple play. It's been so long. And with that wish in our hearts, here are the top 10 stories/players/matchups heading into the weekend.
10. The Weird Constant Interleague Series (LAD-BAL)
Now that the Astros have betrayed and abandoned the National League and joined the AL Central (that's how it went down, right?), there are 15 teams in each league instead of the previous 16-14 split. That means on any given Friday, there will be seven NL games, seven AL games, and one crazy, weird, fun interleague series. This weekend, it's Dodgers-Orioles in what I'm calling "The Battle Between Yankees Envy Past and Yankees Envy Present." Kind of a long name, but you get the point. Both teams are off to mediocre starts and looking to string a few wins together.
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.
In case you were out busting people's chops and bringing them down a peg or two, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Masters has a new champion: Adam Scott defeated Angel Cabrera in a tense two-hole playoff to win his first major at Augusta National. But don't get too comfortable, Mr. Scott. You still have a generic moniker that you share with both an actor and (for the most part) a cartoonist. This means that many people will still picture another man's face when they hear your name, despite your mastery of hitting tiny balls into faraway holes. Hi-yo! Yes! Adam Scott's chops: busted.
The Atlanta Braves improved to an NL best 11-1, as they completed a sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 9-0 road win. But don't get too cocky, Atlanta Braves. Of the last three teams to start 11-1, only one made the playoffs. Therefore, your odds of making the playoffs, 1-3, are the same as they were when you started the season, 10-30. Small sample sized! Ka-pow! You thought you were on the top peg, Braves of Atlanta. Now what peg are you on? I bet it's the second or third one down!
Kobe Bryant suffered a devastating Achilles injury that will keep the future Hall of Famer out for the remainder of this season, as well as the beginning of the next campaign. But don't get too all up on your high horse, people who don't like the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did the Lakers win both of their games this weekend to increase their odds of qualifying for the postseason, but also, Kobe Bryant has still won five championships, become a legend in the second-biggest city in America, and amassed a personal fortune from playing a child's game that will be used to purchase medical care that will ensure that, despite his Achilles tear, he will live a healthier, longer, and more comfortable life than yours. Buh-zing! Sing, oh muses, of the fortunes of Kobe's haters: "Not so great!" Homer'd!
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.
In case you were out demanding that Red Lobster serve you a never-ending pasta bowl, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a thrilling conclusion to the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first NCAA title in 27 years. Reserve forward Luke Hancock was named the Final Four's MOP after his 22-point performance in the title game. When asked if he saw his performance coming, Hancock responded, "I mean, how can you see a thing like this coming?" before Michigan's Trey Burke came up from behind to congratulate him on the win. Unfortunately, Burke's intentions were misinterpreted by a security guard, who immediately removed Burke from the stadium.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's good fortunes continued as he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Pitino, who'll be inducted alongside Gary Payton, Bernard King, and Jerry Tarkanian, among others, also saw his horse Goldencents win the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. Pitino's great week didn't end there, as he was invited to two separate parties at the Louisville Discovery Zone this coming weekend, both of which are rumored to be supplied with both Pizza Factory pizza and Carvel ice-cream cake.