The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Thursday, May 9: at Colorado Rockies
When I'm in the starting lineup, which has been almost every day of the season since 1996, I think about nothing other than the game I'm playing, or the preparation for the next game. That probably goes without saying, but you have to say it, because otherwise people might form their own, mistaken impressions about how you spend your time. But when you're apart from the team for physical rehab, you have a little bit more time than you otherwise would to think about the big issues affecting the sport. Not much more time, because during the rehab itself you should be dedicating every spare thought to visualization exercises involving your triumphant, way-ahead-of-any-reasonable-schedule return to the field, the ensuing 15-game winning streak it will spark, and the unstoppable three-month march to the World Series made possible by the momentum-inspiring electricity of a Captain's return to a temporarily rudderless organization. That kind of mental focus is crucial to your recovery program.
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.
In case you were out meeting the Mets, meeting the Mets, stepping right up and greeting the Mets, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Golden State Warriors blew a 16-point lead, and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili hit a game winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the second overtime as the Spurs took Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal at home, 129-127. The final result overshadowed an epic performance from Stephen Curry, who played every minute of the game and scored 44 points. "It's too bad that I'm not allowed to come out of games," Curry said afterward. "I really could've used the rest at the start of the fourth quarter so that I didn't lose the accuracy on my jumper." He then paused and added, "It's weird that everyone else came out for at least a little bit. I wonder why the rules are different for me." Curry then shrugged, before collapsing in a fatigued heap under the weight of his own shoulder movement.
An injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls team shocked the defending champion Heat in Miami, 93-86. The Bulls closed the game on a 10-0 run, which once again raises the question: Can LeBron get it done in the postseason? Hold on. Let me watch some tape of LeBron from last postseason really quickly oh oh, wow, yeah, he totally can. Never mind.
Sportswriters love telling people how unbiased sportswriters are, and a big part of that is rooting for stories, not individual teams. That’s pretty obvious. It’s much easier and much more fun to write about an unusual defensive play, or a no-hitter, or a walk-off hit, than it is to write about an arduous 12-5 yawner that stopped being close after the third inning.
And it’s not just writers who do this. Even without the professional self-interest, fans want to see the underdog overachieve. They want to see the unusual, the exciting, and they want the drama and uncertainty to last as long as possible.
So in the spirit of lasting drama, everyone ought to be rooting as hard as they can against the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are kind of old news, with two consecutive division titles in their pockets. They rely heavily on slow guys who walk and hit home runs (and if you’re going to do that, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are two pretty good slow guys to have), and they’ve got a starting rotation that might be better than all the other rotations in the division. To balance those strengths come two glaring weaknesses. First, the bullpen has been quite good so far this year but is built on a foundation of quicksand. Second, they have the kind of defense one might expect when a lineup has a lot of slow guys who walk and hit home runs.
Now, none of this makes the Tigers particularly objectionable. The reason you should root against them is that they’re by far the best team in baseball’s worst division, and they’re starting to pull away in the standings.
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."
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
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 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!
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.
Surprise, AZ -- They gathered around the overhead TV, watching WBC highlights, a dozen early-morning arrivals suiting up for warmups. On the screen, Fernando Rodney's big changeup looped over the plate for strike three, causing the Rays closer to perform his signature celebration move. Mimicking the left-lidded stopper, two Royals players fired imaginary arrows toward the clubhouse ceiling.
The homage was funny, although maybe a little out of place. Until you looked around the clubhouse. At one end, the imposing, 6-foot-5 Wade Davis strode through. At the opposite wall, utility man Elliot Johnson pulled on his jersey. A few lockers down, Dan Wheeler chatted with a group of fellow relievers. In the far corner stood James Shields, locked in conversation, the "KC" on his hat still looking a bit weird after six straight 200-inning seasons in Tampa Bay. This year's Royals will have a heavy Rays flavor. Shields predicts the similarities won't stop with a few familiar faces.
"I've been saying this for the last month and a half — this team really reminds me of that '07 team, going into '08," said Kansas City's new no. 1 starter, referencing the worst-to-first Rays of 2008. "We have all the talent in the world to succeed. It's just a matter of putting it together. We have a lot of good, young talent, we've got a great bullpen, and our defense is phenomenal. And I believe this team has all the intangibles needed to win."
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).
The blockbuster trade that swapped James Shields and Wade Davis for a package of prospects headed by Wil Myers has triggered more heated reactions than nearly any other deal in recent memory. The pro-Rays side sees Myers as a future superstar, one well worth a couple of years of Shields and whatever Davis has to offer — and that's without three more attractive prospects coming to Tampa Bay. The pro-Royals side backs the acquisition of Shields and Davis as a bold and necessary move for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in Felix Hernandez's lifetime.
Read those takes. Definitely read Rany Jazayerli's opus, which examines the trade from multiple angles, tying in the Royals' long history of losing, and how surrendering Wil Myers and three other young, cheap players with upside will likely do more harm than good. What got me thinking isn't player service time, the Royals' window of opportunity, Myers's swing plane, or the success rates for prospects — it's something far less specific.
It's the rigid and binary ways that we — fans, media, even general managers — think about team-building. And how the most effective decision-makers rarely consider only two possibilities when making a move.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Redskins rallied to beat the Ravens, 31-28, in overtime, and dodged a bullet when Robert Griffin III's knee injury was diagnosed a sprain, and not an ACL tear. They dodged another bullet when they discovered it wasn't a sprained knee at all, just a swollen fat face, and dodged a final bullet when they realized they were actually looking at a large photo of team owner Dan Snyder.
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: