The Atlanta Braves are suddenly on an 11-game win streak, 13½ games up on their nearest division rival. How in the world did that happen?
In a way, the 2013 Braves are an extension of their 15-year run of National League dominance, an achievement the likes of which we’ll probably never see again. Anyone who rooted for another NL East team near the turn of the century probably quivers with anger at the memory of an Atlanta team that was almost perfectly constructed to dispassionately steamroll all comers, year in and year out. It was an awesome sight to behold, or it would’ve been if I hadn’t been angry enough that my eyes were bleeding while it was going on.
In case you were busy letting down the thousands of people who retweeted you by not getting yourself arrested at a public event, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Despite being suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy, Alex Rodriguez's appeal of the suspension allowed him to play his first game of the season, in which he went 1-for-4 in the Yankees' 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "Tough game, but it's good to be out there with all my friends, fighting the good fight," Rodriguez said as he sat desperately alone both physically and spiritually at the team's postgame press conference. "I'm at home when I'm with my teammates, and while I've made some mistakes, we all agree that the punishment I'm facing is unfair. Right guys?" Rodriguez then nodded confidently while saying, "Sure thing, Alex. With you to the end," in a falsetto out of the corner of his mouth. Rodriguez then pulled out an acoustic guitar, and yelled, "OK boys, all together now," before launching into an off-key rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."
In more positive baseball news, Jeremy Guthrie threw a shutout while Kansas City's offense exploded in a 13-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. Guthrie, despite the win, was fuming after the game, saying, "'This Land Is Your Land'? Seriously? Son of a bitch besmirches the game, and now he besmirches my family's good name? He better hope he's suspended before the next time we face the Yanks."
In case you were busy figuring out how to eat a hat after watching Raul Ibanez hit his 22nd home run of the season, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Atlanta Braves, powered by Justin Upton, put together a six-run 14th inning as they topped the Marlins, 7-1, in Miami. The loss sent the Marlins to 0-13 at home when their stadium's retractable roof is open, proving definitively that God really doesn't want to look at Marlins games until they put a real major league team back together.
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 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."
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 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.
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.
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.
Jonah Keri talks to ESPN's Buster Olney about the ticking time bomb that is the MLB trade deadline. Could Cole Hamels stay a Phillie? Why aren't more teams interested in Zack Greinke? Where might Justin Upton land? What do the Tigers, Red Sox, and Dodgers have in common? And what do the many teams stuck in the vast middle do, with the siren song of a second wild card calling? Jonah then checks in with NFL.com's Dave Dameshek on his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, and the fantasy league to end all fantasy leagues.
Justin Upton is struggling. A rising star and one of this year's trendy MVP picks, the 24-year-old right fielder was expected to have another amazing year for the Diamondbacks. But a lingering thumb injury has hampered his swing and hurt his production -- currently at .212 BA/.350 OBP/.273 SLG.
Upton saw a hand specialist Tuesday, and while he might avoid a trip to the disabled list, the Diamondbacks are hinting that a few days off might be in order. Still, on a recent visit to Coors Field, Upton hit the batting cage three and a half hours before game time, getting his swings in with running mates Chris Young and Ryan Roberts like he does every day.
After his cage work, Upton sat down to talk about his progression as a player, his approach at the plate, and learning defensive tricks from his talented outfield mates.