In case you were out looking for a shooting star to wish on, but finding only derelict satellites, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
It took two overtimes and 53 saves from Tuukka Rask, but the Boston Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden. Rask was jubilant after the win, saying, "Rask! Rask! Rask!" while pounding his stick on the ground. When asked what had inspired him to produce such a stellar showing, Rask added, "Rask! Rask! Rask!" before again pounding his stick on the ground. When asked whether Boston's poor showing after taking big leads in previous rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs had him at all nervous going into Game 4, Rask slashed the reporter in the knee with his stick, severing the bottom portion of his leg from the rest of his body, before adding, "Rask! Rask! Rask!"
After 13 scoreless innings, the White Sox and Mariners engaged in a seesaw battle at Safeco Field, including a game-tying Kyle Seager grand slam, before Chicago finally put away Seattle, 7-5, in the 16th inning. White Sox pitcher Addison Reed, who pitched three innings in relief, wound up getting the win despite allowing all five Mariners runs. Adjusting for park and opponent, Reed's win is hold on a second, let me just carry the three yes, yes, yes, eureka! It is the proof I've been looking for! Wins are the most useless statistic in sports! I win! Now if anyone has seen where I've put my ironic victory trombone, I have some Sousa marches to play whilst stomping around my living room in my boxer shorts.
In honor of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee coming up this Wednesday and Thursday, you will find one of the winning words from the last 10 years of competition in each entry. When they don't fit naturally — which will be always, if my prospicience can be trusted, since they're weird and useless for all practical purposes — I will heroically shoehorn them in like a stubborn cobbler.
Here now are the highlights from the upcoming weekend in professional American baseball.
10. How to Become Nationally Irrelevant — Move to Toronto (Saturday, BAL-TOR)
This is in honor of R.A. Dickey, who you may remember as the feel-good story of 2012 when he and his knuckleball amassed a 20-6 record and won the NL Cy Young Award. In New York.
Repeat: in New York.
You may have noticed after reading his name that we have not heard much from R.A. Dickey this season. Sure, he's lost some velocity, and that may not be as irrelevant as you think for a knuckleballer. And his stats — 4-5, 4.50 ERA — are much worse than last year. But I still have a few questions. First, how would he have done last season in a division where he'd be pitching about half his starts against teams that scored a combined 2,947 runs, as opposed to 2,724? And would his excellent story of overcoming adversity have been so prominent if he weren't pitching in New York? And would he have won a Cy Young that probably should've gone to Clayton Kershaw (well, OK, obviously not since he would've been playing in the American League, but you get what I'm saying)? This is all hypothetical, and predicting what might have happened is about as reliable as constructing a neanderthal Ursprache, but it does make you wonder. In any case, he was one of the best parts of last season, and here's hoping he's got some fireworks left in the old arm — the long-range kind, that can reach us across the border.
Twitter has got fantasy questions, we've got answers. Hot starts, cold starts, bullpens in flux, trade scenarios, a top 10 that'll start 30,000 fights, and much more, all covered in this edition of the Roster Doctor.
Stick with Wade Davis and Jon Niese? Or ditch ’em for likes of Vance Worley, Ryan Vogelsong, Joe Blanton?
What the hell do I do with Jarrod Parker (10-team mixed league)?
The answer to these two questions is none of the above. In standard mixed leagues, there's no reason to stick with any these guys. Parker might've had a nice year in 2012, Vogelsong might've had a couple of good years, and Niese might've come into 2013 as a trendy sleeper. But these are all pitchers you should stream, and nothing more. Even in 14- or 16-team mixed leagues, I'd feel no obligation to own Parker, for instance. Sure he's been marginally better in his past three starts than he was at the beginning of the year. But even if Parker bounces back, you'd have a shot at comparable production by slotting the right Scott Feldman types into the right matchups on a weekly basis. It's more work to study schedules every weekend, scan the waiver wire, and find the perfect plug-and-plays. But fantasy baseball isn't an idle pursuit based almost entirely on luck the way, say, fantasy football is. You want to win your league? Gotta work for it.
In case you were out looking at buffalo and thanking the heavens that you never had to actually traverse the Oregon Trail by wagon, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers remained red hot at home as they pushed the New York Knicks to the brink of elimination with a 93-82 win. This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference has now tilted firmly in favor of Indiana, which has New York residents stunned. "This was our year," said Daniel Czaplinski of Woodside. "We at least had to make it to the Heat. The Pacers? Gimme a break. Who the heck are they?" When asked if he had seen the Pacers play at all this season, Czaplinski said, "Yeah, they had that Zeller kid, and Oladipo. Not sure what happened to them, but Melo shouldn't be letting this George Paul guy take over. This is an abomination and all these bums should be fired."
The Spurs grabbed a pivotal Game 5 win in the friendly confines of San Antonio, beating the Golden State Warriors, 109-91, behind 25 points and 10 assists from Tony Parker. Parker, a noted French person from Belgium, was quietly finishing off a pack of Gauloises after the game before he mused about the idea of a falcon he had in his mind. "You know, bird that does not exist, your ability to fly is less impressive to some because of your lack of corporeal form. But to me, nonexistent falcon I just named Tweet-Tweet, you are more impressive, as you at least know you do not exist, where as real falcons contend daily with the illusion of reality." After a brief pause when Tweet-Tweet likely asked Parker for his last Gauloise, as Parker dropped one onto the ground next to him, Parker added, "And that is how I defeat the Warriors. They expect me to move at speeds, or to distribute the basketball. But that's all the secondary creative act. The original creative act was forgetting my own creation. Here, let me imagine a treatise for you to read." Unfortunately, Tweet-Tweet does not read French, and used Parker's imaginary philosophical text as bedding for his imaginary nest.
A couple weeks ago, I posted a starting lineup of the most entertaining players in baseball, and Jonah Keri objected to my including only one pitcher, Yu Darvish. Of course, you can have only one pitcher in a starting lineup at a time. That’s how baseball works. But because I crave Jonah’s approval as if he were an aloof and uninterested father figure, I put together what would be the most entertaining pitching staff in baseball: Yu Darvish, plus …
Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Please, Hernandez’s elbow, don’t blow up. Just please don’t blow up. I’m a sucker for a good sinker. Back in the day, one of my favorite things about baseball was that, once a week, it gave me the opportunity to watch Brandon Webb dive-bomb hitters for seven or eight innings. After the tragic passing of Roy Halladay, King Felix might now be the archetypal no. 1 starter — an enormous dude with a strong fastball, great command, and a long and distinguished list of off-speed and breaking pitches. Not only does the archetypal no. 1 starter have to throw good innings, he has to throw lots of them, consistently. It’s hard to just go out there and carpet-bomb hitters start after start for 220 innings a year. At the moment, it might be down to Hernandez and the next guy.
Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
I’ve been writing about baseball for five seasons now. Whenever preseason prediction time comes around, I pick Justin Verlander to win the Cy Young every time. I have literally never picked another pitcher. I almost didn’t add him because his brilliance is really perfunctory at this point. On Sunday, Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and I even didn’t turn the game on because it seems like he does that twice a month. “Oh, did Verlander just throw eight innings, strike out 10, walk one, and give up four hits and one earned run? Fascinating. Let me do the Aubrey Plaza eye roll.”
If you’re a baseball fan and (1) have a spare $130, and (2) are either single or have a relationship that will bear your watching 40 hours of baseball a week, there’s no better investment than MLB Network. But if you’re going to channel-surf through 15 games a night, you better have a plan. You could just go to any game that’s late and close, or you could zero in on trying to see the most exciting players. In case that appeals to you, here are the most exciting players to watch at each position.
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
I almost didn’t pick Posey because I really don’t want to validate a fan base that’s quickly ascending to a level of Conspicuous Internet Smugness that we’d normally expect from Phillies and Red Sox fans. There’s been a lot of talk about Moneyball being a crock because all Billy Beane did was luck into three stud starting pitchers. Brian Sabean did pretty much the same thing, except while Beane made a bunch of nifty little moves to fill out a winning team, Sabean complemented Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Mad Bum with a team assembled through a crusade of aggressive silliness (getting fleeced for Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence, overpaying Pence, overpaying Aaron Rowand, overpaying Aubrey Huff, and so on) that you’d expect from a post–Cold War Eastern Bloc government struggling to get a feel for capitalism.
In case you were busy dancing like no one was watching, despite the fact many, many people were watching, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Clayton Kershaw pitched a shutout and hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-0 to open their 2013 season. "I've been playing at such a high level for a number of years, and now it's time for me to make an impact at every level of the franchise," Kershaw said after the game, while directing traffic in Dodger Stadium's serpentine parking lot, adeptly moving those headed to the 110 away from those headed toward the 101. Kershaw reportedly spent the remainder of his evening helping the grounds crew reseed the playing surface, before finally heading to the locker room to do the team's laundry.
Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies sent the Spurs to their second consecutive defeat, winning in Memphis, 92-90. Conley hit the game-winning shot with six-tenths of a second left on the clock, but was also held without a steal for the first time in 64 games. "I'm out of the game," Conley said after the win. "I've been taking things my whole life, but I'm done. I've got a wife now, and I think a more stable life is what we need." Despite these comments, Conley was, admittedly, "intrigued" by a plan that Marc Gasol was putting together for "one last big score," but at press time had still refused to commit to any more steals in a potential first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Hernandez would've made $39.5 million over the final two years of his existing contract, effectively making the new deal a five-year, $135.5 million extension. It's a huge gamble for a Mariners team that now figures to pay one pitcher about 30 percent of its total payroll this season. It's also a huge win for Mariners fans tired of seeing superstars leave for greener pastures.
Coors Field is back, and it's angry, my friends. The Colorado Rockies' home park is boosting offense at a higher rate than it has in more than a decade. Theories abound as to why one of baseball's most offense-friendly parks has ramped hitting back up to the Blake Street Bombers days. Some contend the Rockies have stopped using humidors to store baseballs and thus dampen offensive levels but the evidence suggests otherwise. It might be Denver's weather this summer, with temperatures uncharacteristically hitting and sticking in triple digits far more than they have in the past, thus creating a hot and dry launching pad for hitters. Or maybe it's just our old friend random chance.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on over the weekend.
In their first duel of the Olympics, Ryan Lochte dominated Michael Phelps to take gold in the 400-meter individual medley. "Sure, Ryan swam well," said an irritated Phelps, defending his legacy, "but has he ever mated with a dolphin? Because I have. I mated with a damn dolphin, and she came on to me."
Seems like a straightforward question, right? Flip through the stats to find the league leaders. Use your eyes if you're someone who does that well.
Turns out it's not that easy. Sifting through all the available stats (basic or advanced) and trying to pick out one guy can be an enormous challenge. So can the eyeball test: Even highly trained scouts are subject to human biases imagine how tough it is for the rest of us to get it right. So many people holding so many different opinions on the subject underscores how tough it still is to evaluate pitching, even with a million tools at our disposal. It's also a nod toward the fleeting nature of pitching success, and how quickly opinions can change. Sometimes radically.
Google "arguably the best pitcher in baseball" and you get results for the following pitchers, to name just a few.
Anthony Davis had 16 points, six boards, and four blocks as no. 1 Kentucky easily topped no. 7 Florida 78-58. After the game, Davis cornered his teammates in the locker room. "Guys," the freshman said, "when I screamed 'Welcome to Painesville!' after every block, did it sound cool? Was it clear that it was a Gaineseville reference?" They mostly looked at the floor. "Sure, dude," said Doron Lamb. "It was awesome. I really have to go, though."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Tim Tebow capped a game-winning drive with a 20-yard touchdown run to give the Broncos a 17-13 win over the Jets. It would be easy to overstate the significance of this event, but I do think it's fair to say that, objectively speaking, I will spend the next few months looking for the face of Tebow in my frosted flakes.
I can't verify this for a fact, but there's an excellent chance that the first big word I ever learned was "referendum." When I was five years old, Quebec's Parti Quebecois government called a referendum to determine whether or not the province should secede from the rest of Canada. Had that effort succeeded, I might have grown up in a different country, with different currency, different status within the global community, and a whole new set of elected officials for Major League Baseball to threaten and blackmail before stealing the Expos away.
In baseball, referendums happen far more frequently, often over the same basic idea: How do we determine the value of a player? Can a pitcher be a league's most valuable player? Can a player on a non-contending team be the most valuable player? Just what exactly does valuable mean, anyway? It's the same with pitchers. Should we focus on wins? ERA? Advanced stats? Can movies starring Brad Pitt and Royce Clayton help us better understand all of this? Forget the future of an entire nation. These are the questions that matter.