In case you were busy learning hard lessons about hubris and foosball but mostly hubris, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tuukka Rask had a shutout and Daniel Paille had his second goal in as many games as the Boston Bruins seized a 2-1 advantage in the Stanley Cup final with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Ageless right winger Jaromir Jagr, who was held scoreless again but had a critical assist in his team's win, said after the game, "I can't believe I'm here trying to win my first Stanley Cup in 21 years. I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink." Jagr then narrowed his eyes and said, "No, seriously, given how that night went almost 21 years ago, I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink. Let's say the Cup has a lot of volume, I was 19, and if we do win this, there are some mistakes that Lord Stanley and I will not repeat."
Max Scherzer struck out 10 and improved to 10-0 as the Detroit Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-1. "But am I an ace?" a concerned Scherzer asked after the game. "Please tell me! Am I an ace on a staff with a pair of aces, or the best no. 2 in the game? Or am I an ace in the making who still has something to prove? Do I need to escape Justin Verlander's shadow, or do we make each other better by pitching back-to-back? Won't someone please debate these designations and render a verdict based on a meaningless quote from my manager?" Detroit manager Jim Leyland then added, "He's at the top of his game pretty much," which pretty much settled the ace question once and for all.
Shelby Miller might go his entire baseball life without matching what he did Friday night. Facing the Rockies in St. Louis, the 22-year-old right-hander gave up a leadoff single to Eric Young Jr. and nothing else, mowing down 27 straight hitters en route to a one-hit shutout. He struck out 13 batters and walked none, hurling not only the best game of his young career and the best game in Cardinals history, but also one of the most dominant starts of all time, for anyone.
Miller's near-perfect game might've been the overwhelming choice for best pitching highlight of the Cardinals' season and a lasting memory for the rest of the year until Adam Wainwright came along and nearly topped it. The very next night. In Game 2 of the Rockies series, Wainwright fired 7⅓ no-hit innings before Nolan Arenado broke up the no-no bid on a clean single to center. Wainwright would close out the game with a two-hit shutout, striking out seven batters and walking just one. The two Cardinals starters combined to retire 49 straight Rockies hitters, basically one and a half perfect games.
That stretch of pitching might seem borderline impossible to pull off. Given recent events, maybe we shouldn't have been too surprised. Miller's start was one of four one–base runner shutouts last week, as many as we saw in five years (2003 through 2007) last decade and not even including Wainwright's three–base runner gem. Miller had already been pitching exceptionally well, going into Friday's start with a 1.79 ERA in 50⅓ major league innings, with 54 strikeouts and just 15 walks over his brief cup of coffee last season and his first six starts this year. Wainwright's seven-strikeout, one-walk night actually hurt his strikeout-to-walk rate, which sat at an unfathomable 48-to-3 before that Rockies game. None of this was all that new for the Cardinals rotation either, not for a starting five that leads the majors with a 2.29 ERA, 2.81 FIP (second-lowest in MLB), 3.29 xFIP (also second-lowest), and just 12 home runs allowed. The Cardinals own the best record in baseball as we near the season's quarter-pole, and their rotation is the biggest reason they're here.
Somewhere in West Virginia, the Pirates have a 22-year-old corner infielder who’s putting up Miguel Cabrera–like numbers in low-A. That player, Stetson Allie, is old for the level, but this is his second year in the South Atlantic League. (The placement of West Virginia in the South Atlantic is a stunning feat of geographic creativity. One suspects that the late Sen. Robert Byrd was somehow responsible.)
The first time around, Allie, a former second-round pick, was a pitcher. Blessed with a name befitting a character from The Expendables and a fastball that cracked 100 miles an hour, Allie made two appearances, faced 12 batters, recorded two outs, and walked eight men. Allie’s control problems were well known, even when he was an amateur, and once it became clear that he’d never get over them, the Pirates moved him to first base with the eventual plan of moving him to third, where he can take advantage of, you know, a pretty good throwing arm.
Allie’s story is fascinating, and while hardly unique, his spectacular wildness and transition to position player is going to be the first line in his baseball obituary. Which makes it all the more astounding that when Rick Ankiel got cut by Houston last week, people talked about him like he was a normal baseball player. Ankiel’s own control issues led to a similar change more than a decade ago, but the road he’s taken since has managed to push wild pitches and prospect rankings down a ways in his own career postmortem.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
The St. Louis Cardinals have a problem, one that nearly any other team would envy. They start an above-average center fielder, one of the best right-handed sluggers in the league at first base, and a pair of corner outfielders who've combined for 13 All-Star appearances. They have a 24-year-old first baseman who pummeled his way through the minor leagues and is smashing pitches in the big leagues every chance he gets, which is to say not that often. They also have a 20-year-old phenom center fielder sitting in the minors, a potential offensive superstar just waiting for his chance to reach the Show and set the league ablaze only he has nowhere to play.
The Texas Rangers also have a problem nearly any other team would envy. They have a three-time All-Star playing a position that's become perhaps baseball's weakest. Their 24-year-old shortstop is a defensive wizard, armed with speed and a good batting eye, the kind of skill set that portends stardom. They also have a 20-year-old phenom shortstop who's a defensive standout in his own right, with enough speed, patience, and burgeoning power to make him arguably the best prospect on the planet only he has nowhere to play.
As luck would have it, both of these phenoms play the exact position that the other team most needs to upgrade. Two players, same age, same exalted prospect status, both playing positions at which their team is loaded, both able to fill a big hole on the other team's roster. A straight swap of Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar makes sense in just every way imaginable. But if history is any guide, the chances of such a deal happening lie somewhere between slim and none.
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.
The Cardinals agreed to terms with Adam Wainwright this week on a five-year, $97.5 million deal, the latest reminder that baseball is swimming in cash, and that salaries will continue to soar.
Let's start with this: Wainwright is a very good pitcher. In 2009, the right-hander staged an impressive breakout, adding two more strikeouts per nine innings and bumping his ground ball rate to a career high, above 50 percent. In 2009, 2010, and 2012, Wainwright averaged 221 innings pitched, with a 2.97 ERA, a FIP just more than 3.00, and a 4.97 Wins Above Replacement per season. He's the best pitcher on the Cardinals’ staff by a wide margin, and one of the 10 best in the National League.
You'll notice that 2011 isn't included in the accounting of Wainwright's track record. That's because he missed that entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His new contract doesn't kick in until 2014 — the year he turns 33.
In case you were busy recording your sophomore album, It's Hard Out There (On the Road), here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Chicago Bulls used their strength and rebounding advantage to beat Miami, 101-97, snapping the Heat's 27-game winning streak. After the game, LeBron James complained about the Bulls' physicality and hard fouls: "I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays." Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau responded, saying, "I'm soooooo sorry. Reeeeeeallly. I would never tell my guys to be physical in a big game. Especially a brute like Kirk Hinrich. My deeeeeepest apologies."
Despite the absence of Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 22nd straight time, 120-117. The game was not without controversy, however, as Ricky Rubio appeared to be fouled by Kobe Bryant on a game-tying 3-point attempt. After the game, Bryant was defiant when asked about the non-call, saying nothing as he pulled down a large map of the world from above his locker and blacked out Spain with a magic marker.
Martin Perez might be out until May with a broken left forearm, while Rafael Furcal has been shut down with lingering pain in his elbow, raising further questions about two of the biggest weak spots for two wannabe contenders.
Two years ago, Texas and St. Louis met in the World Series. Both teams saw their performance dip a bit in 2012 — the Cardinals lopping two wins off their regular-season total, making it to the brink of a World Series return trip and falling just short, the Rangers dropping by three wins, then bowing out in the wild-card elimination game. Both might not be so lucky this year, with the Cardinals' middle infield and Rangers' rotation threatening to derail another round of October baseball.
On Wednesday, I covered 15 players with compelling backstories who've been invited to spring training with American League clubs. Per that article: "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."
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.
Chris Carpenter will likely miss the entire 2013 season, casting further doubt on the Cardinals' rotation and raising concerns over the team's ability to make a third straight trip to the playoffs.
Carpenter's loss is one of several potential pitfalls awaiting the Cardinals' staff this year. Jaime Garcia's supposed to be ready for Opening Day after straining his rotator cuff in last fall's playoffs, but given the delicate nature of the injury and that surgery was contemplated, that's no sure thing. Lance Lynn's second-half fade last season raised questions about his ability to handle a full-season starter's workload. And Jake Westbrook is Jake Westbrook, a sometimes effective, 35-year-old, extreme ground ball pitcher who misses so few bats that he often appears on the verge of a 12-run strafing.
For nearly every other team, these conditions would be enough to torpedo a season. For the Cardinals, it's just the latest challenge for a team with a recent history of smashing them.
In baseball, a win is a win except when it's more than a win.
One extra victory for a 100-loss team will mean virtually nothing, little added revenue, no better hope for a playoff chance. The same goes for a 100-win team: In today's 10-team playoff system, sweating over win number 101 or 102 makes little sense, since you're almost certainly in the playoffs, probably winning your division, and most likely claiming home-field advantage throughout if you reach triple digits.
There is, however, a sweet spot for wins, where each one added to a team's ledger greatly improves the odds of a playoff berth. That sweet spot changes every year. In 2012, the two playoff teams that won the fewest games were the NL wild-card winning Cardinals and AL Central champion Tigers, cracking the postseason with 88 wins apiece. So all else being equal, an 89th win for the wild-card runner-up Dodgers or AL Central second-place White Sox would've carried an extraordinary amount of weight.