In case you were even busier not making up with Sergio Garcia, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Despite an epic comeback to force overtime, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker proved to be too much for the Memphis Grizzlies, who fell into a 2-0 hole in the Western Conference finals after falling, 93-89, to the San Antonio Spurs. "All praise to Tim for this win," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. "He spends his offseasons as a scoutmaster, so bear traps are kind of his thing. And in this case he set a really good one made out of leafy foliage and letting Jerryd Bayless try to beat us. I was nervous it wasn't going to hold, but Tim's such a calm presence that we stuck with it and came out of there with another trophy for our mantle." Popovich then laughed nervously and added, "figuratively."
Joe Thornton led the San Jose Sharks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings to even up their series at two games apiece. When asked if Thornton was a thorn in his team's side, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "No. He's a Thornton on their side." When asked again, Sutter angrily replied, "You want your headline? Here's your headline: Sharks Swim Over Deposed Kings as Thornton Proves a Thorn in the Too Slow Quick's Side." Sutter then yelled angrily, "You monsters! Look what's become of you. Making me, Daryl Sutter, utter those words in that order! Look what's become of me!"
In case you were out welcoming summer by busting out the old double Dutch (and failing, because double-Dutching is really hard, guys, stop laughing) here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The New York Knicks were eliminated in six games by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The defeat proves their season, in which they won their first division championship since 1994 and 50 games for the first time since 2000, was an utter and abysmal failure. Their capitulation to a comparably good team that was able to steal an early game at Madison Square Garden and then hold serve at its home arena, which was among the hardest places to get a win in the NBA all season, further proves that the team needs to be torn down, because the guys on the Knicks just don't care enough. Sure, they were a magnificent block from one of the few true centers left in the game away from forcing a Game 7 at home, but I think it's clear, based on this series, that the New York Chokes (clever nickname, eh?) are the lousiest bunch of basketball players the NBA has ever seen, and they should return their salaries to team owner James Dolan before turning themselves into the NYPD for crimes against the state.
Oxbow upset Kentucky Derby winner Orb to win the Preakness Stakes after going out as a 15-1 longshot. The win was a boon for the small population of semi-literate foodies, who misread the horse's name and have little understanding of how horse racing works, as they placed large amounts of money banking on the resurgent popularity of the ingredient oxtail to carry the day. In somewhat related news, someone in Florida just won $600 million playing Powerball.
In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
Stating the obvious, strikeouts are a wonderful thing for a pitcher. Retire a batter by your own hand and you don't have to sweat the vagaries of luck, defense, park effects, and all the factors that can conspire to ruin a pitcher's day, through no fault of his own. More broadly, strikeouts are a great predictor of success: Other than the occasional Carlos Marmol, the top strikeout pitchers in baseball often double as the top pitchers in baseball, period.
But that doesn't mean pitchers can't find success in other ways. In 2011, Jim Johnson shook off a career full of mostly unimpressive results to become one of the league's top setup men; few noticed because he lacked the glory that comes with getting the last out of games. Given his first extended shot at closing last year, Johnson flourished, marking just the 12th time in history that a pitcher had racked up 50 or more saves. The Orioles played a ton of close games last year and famously posted the best record ever for one-run games, which played a big part in Johnson's gaudy save totals. But Johnson himself was responsible for much of that success, and not because of his strikeouts. The right-hander's 15.2 percent K rate ranked just 219th among 270 pitchers with 60 or more innings pitched last year. His 62.3 percent ground ball rate, on the other hand, ranked 6th among those same 270 pitchers, his tidy 5.6 percent walk rate ranking 45th. If you walk very few batters and induce a ton of grounders, you're simply not going to put many men on base, nor allow many extra-base hits. Sure, you'll be susceptible to a few five-hoppers sneaking through the infield. But if that's the worst of a closer's problems, he's probably going to put up a bunch of big seasons.
He might not fit the profile of the fire-breathing ninth-inning man. But Johnson is one of the game's best, his hold on the closing job is rock-solid, and there's no regression monster lurking around the corner.
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 out feeling agnostic toward piña coladas, but still got caught in the rain, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Kobe Bryant was en fuego, scoring 47 points as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 113-106. Bryant's big night overshadowed a stellar performance from Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard, who described going toe to toe as "really fun for a while, until things started to get, um, personal." When asked to explain, Lillard got very quiet. Bryant, when asked about Lillard's comments, said, "Kid's a kid, and when you're a kid, you're maybe not ready to see a grown man call another grown man who is wearing the same jersey he is some of the names I may have called some of the men who were wearing the same jersey I was. But if he didn't want to see that, then maybe those men who were wearing the same jersey that I was should maybe rebound, as they were expected to when some other men were traded for them this past offseason. The point is, we can stay quiet for the kids, but I say they gotta grow up sometime. Damian's a trouper. He'll be all right."
The Kansas City Royals completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 3-0 win at Kauffman Stadium. The win keeps the Kansas City Royals atop the AL Central, and while the season is still young, it's never too early to prepare yourself for the consequences of a potential Royals playoff berth. In the event of a Royals playoff berth, you'll want to keep five gallons of purified water on hand for each member of your household. You'll also want to have cash on hand; remember, in the case of a Royals playoff berth, it's likely that the telecommunication systems we rely on in our day-to-day lives will fail, and you'll want to be prepared. While having a roll of duct tape handy in the case of a Royals playoff berth might help you build a makeshift shelter, you should not rely on it if a Royals playoff berth leads to unbreathable air conditions. Consider purchasing rated ventilation masks now. And when in doubt, an ounce of prevention can save a pound of heartache in the event of a Royals playoff berth.
You'll need to know who you're watching. Unlike in the regular season, when you become all too familiar with your favorite team's designated cipher, recognizing players during spring training often takes a well-trained eye. There are the many players wearing 70-, 80- and 90-something who you won't see on the big league roster for a few years, if ever. Then there are the "Is that who I think it is?" double-takes, the veterans who peaked years ago, only to show up in Mesa or Kissimmee or Peoria doggedly trying to fight their way back for one more shot at glory.
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. Today, we'll review the AL NRIs, one player from each American League team who fits the mold of failed prospect, faded star, or just someone with a story to tell (NL later this week).
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.
Dan Duquette is no stranger to statistical concepts in baseball. He hired an eager researcher named Ari Kaplan to build advanced scouting software and run analytics for him back in the early ’90s, when Duquette was just starting his first general manager's job with the Expos. When he jumped to the Red Sox in 1994, he hired Mike Gimbel, a sabermetrician-by-hobby who'd offered him advice from afar while Duquette was still in Montreal. Years before the publication of Moneyball, Duquette was exploring every avenue to gain an analytical edge over the competition.
So when you remind him that the Orioles won 93 games and crashed the playoffs last year largely thanks to a historic and impossible-to-sustain 29-9 record in one-run games, he gets the question that's coming next. Duquette understands the concept of regression to the mean. He knows that on paper, the Orioles, more than any other team in baseball, are ripe for a crash back to earth in 2013. He just doesn't think that's going to happen.
The wildest day of this Hot Stove season featured the winter's biggest contract for a position player, an affordable two-year deal for a veteran starting pitcher, and a fierce, two-team battle for an underrated starter.
A few hours after the Angels' 11th-hour rush ended with a $125 million deal for Josh Hamilton, the buzz turned to a Cubs-Tigers tug-of-war for Anibal Sanchez. Multiple early reports had Sanchez headed to Chicago for five years and $75 million. But while Hamilton reportedly reneged on a promise to give the Rangers a chance to match any competing offer, Sanchez had no such reluctance, approaching the Tigers to see if they'd match the Cubs' proposal and keep him in Detroit and they did, signing the best remaining pitcher on the free-agent market to a five-year, $80 million contract.
Welcome to the second-annual edition of Grantland's MLB Winter Meetings coverage. We'll be filing frequent updates throughout each day of the meetings, weighing in on signings, trades, and rumors, while also providing as much color as possible from Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel, home of the The Great Christmas Arboretum Cotillion.
At last year’s Winter Meetings in Dallas, we saw Jose Reyes shock the baseball world by signing with the Marlins for $106 million. Then the Angels swooped in, landing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for more than $300 million combined. Ten months later, both teams were playing golf, while teams with less splashy agendas competed in the playoffs.
Expect to see plenty of action at this year’s meetings too. Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke top the list of available free agents, while a number of teams have been linked to juicy trade talks. Here are 10 clubs that could make a splash by the time the week is up:
Let's start with some questions: Is it just bad luck that so many god-awful playoff performers found themselves playing for the New York Yankees? Does a lack of clutch hitting have something to do with attitude? Is it contagious? Is it Joe Girardi's fault, somehow, for fostering a tense atmosphere just by projecting an anxious personality? Has A-Rod poisoned the well? How can so many players who make so much money and score so many runs together during the regular season suddenly look like terrified third-graders at their first piano recital?
Second, a hypothesis: For overall quality of offense, taking both the Yankees and Orioles into account, this has to be one of the worst playoff series ever.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Justin Verlander tossed a complete-game shutout, striking out 11 and allowing four hits as the Tigers beat the A's 6-0 in Game 5 to advance to the ALCS. After the game, the low-budget A's could be heard marveling at the "pitcher from the big city." "He stood round 'bouts seven-foot high!" hollered Coco Crisp. "Threw damn near 200 miles an hour!" hooted Stephen Drew. "Man's arm jest about touched yer cap when he reached out and throwed," howled Brandon Moss. "Most men take just a speck ah chaw up on that picher's hill," yelped general manager Billy Beane, "but damned if ole Verlander warn't holdin' an entire tobacky stalk and swallerin' it jes like a baby carrot!"