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.
In case you were unable to get to a TV after a butt pat gone awry, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
After giving up a six-run lead, the Boston Red Sox finally put away the Tampa Bay Rays, 10-8, behind a Daniel Nava 14th-inning RBI single. The game was not without its controversy, as John Lackey hit Matt Joyce with a pitch, leading to both benches clearing in the sixth inning. "Yeah, it was on purpose," Lackey admitted after the game, "but it's not what you think. A couple years ago, James Loney's wife baked me these cookies when I went in for Tommy John surgery, and I needed the recipe, because I've been jonesing for these cookies something fierce, and I figured the easiest way to see him was to get the benches to clear. I mean, I was getting tired anyway. And sure enough, sea salt. That's the secret ingredient. Sort of a sweet and savory thing." When told Lackey's explanation after the game, Joyce exclaimed, "Sea salt! Of course! A sweet and savory combination. Makes perfect sense."
League sources are reporting that the New England Patriots will sign Tim Tebow to serve as the team's third quarterback, reuniting Tebow with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow when he was the head coach of the Broncos. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, when asked if he signed Tebow simply to gain access to the New York Jets playbook from last season, replied by staring directly at the reporter without blinking, before waving at the reporter to take a couple of steps back into a visibly out-of-place pile of long grass and discarded branches. When asked if the grass and branches were covering some sort of snare trap, Belichick groaned and said, "You win this round, but you'll never know how I got the Jets playbook for sure, will you?"
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.
Most of the big-ticket free agents reeled in last winter have been, at least so far, colossal busts. The Dodgers' $147 million has bought them five starts' worth of Zack Greinke. The Angels' $125 million investment has yielded a .222/.283/.399 line from Josh Hamilton. The Braves spent $75.25 million on B.J. Upton, who is hitting .148/.236/.252.
With a few exceptions, the best free agents of the past offseason have also been some of the cheapest. As more and more teams re-up their best players before they can reach free agency, mastering the art of shrewd shopping becomes more important, whether your payroll tops $200 million or is one-third that size. Granting that we're only eight weeks into the season, it could be instructive to run through the most successful free-agent pickups of the Hot Stove, and see if we can pick out any traits and patterns common to the best of the bunch.
Here are those top snags, going position by position.
Lots of fantasy news to report over the past few days, so let's dive right in:
Orioles call up Kevin Gausman
It was supposed to be Dylan Bundy. At the tail end of the Orioles' shocking run to the playoffs, they called up the then-19-year-old Bundy to toss a couple of innings in relief. A consensus top-three prospect heading into this season, Bundy was believed to be the next in waiting for the Orioles rotation. His elbow wouldn't cooperate. Bundy hasn't thrown a single inning in the minors or majors this year, and is out until at least mid-June after receiving a series of platelet-rich plasma injections in his right elbow. For most teams, having a pitching prospect of that caliber go down would be a crushing blow. Not so for the Orioles, who've subbed in one no. 4 overall pick for another, culminating in Gausman getting the call less than a year after getting drafted.
You should pick him up immediately. We've talked at length about streaming starting pitchers, and more broadly about Matthew Berry's Wandy Line, which states that certain pitchers should be kept all season, while most others can be picked up and dropped depending on matchups. When an elite prospect gets called up, we don't yet know on what side of the Wandy Line he'll fall. Better, then, to grab him right away and see how things shake out. In 46⅓ innings at Double-A Bowie this year, Gausman struck out 49 batters, walked just five, and allowed just three home runs. Eight starts above Single-A don't provide much of a sample size, but the Orioles' rotation is swimming in no. 4 and no. 5 starter types. Gausman may or may not be ready to dominate in the big leagues, but he has more talent than any of Baltimore's current starting five. This is the Jose Fernandez call-up, only on a legitimate, contending team that stands to win more games with their phenom's promotion.
Gausman's first start comes Thursday against the Jays. In standard mixed leagues, go ahead and start him. Worst-case scenario, you absorb one rough start, drop him, and move on to the next streamer. Best-case scenario, you've landed a very rare commodity: an ace worth keeping for the long haul, or at least until August, when Gausman would hit his likely innings cap.
And we are BACK, with your all-purpose* guide to the weekend in MLB action.
*Single-purpose, really. It's super limited in function. You can only read it.
10. no. 2 UNC vs. no. 3 Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m. and Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN3)
Whoa! Super controversial start! Who is this guy? He must think way outside the box to be including a college baseball game in a post specifically dedicated to MLB. What a challenging artistic choice! I imagine people will have split reactions, but it'll definitely get them talking!
OK, this is here because college baseball gets zero attention, and this is a great series. UNC is 46-7 and UVA is 44-8. Both teams have gaudy statistics; the lowest batting average among UNC's top nine hitters is .278, while the Cavs aren't far behind. But the real attraction here is Carolina's pitching staff, which boasts a 2.50 ERA. Benton Moss and Hobbs Johnson are the starters for the weekend, and we could see both in the bigs someday soon. Anyway, if you're ever going to watch a college baseball game before the College World Series, this is a good start. And I swear, the fact that I'll be at one or both games has nothing to do with why I included it here. (Lies.)
In case you were busy making a new nonalcoholic mixed drink that's half soda water, half tonic water called the Van de Velde, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Playing without Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Kirk Hinrich was too much for the Bulls, who fell 95-92 to the Brooklyn Nets. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau regrettably informed his team of their depleted forces before the game, adding, "I didn't know the games were optional." He then proceeded to drink straight from a bottle of Gilbey's gin, tell Taj Gibson that he wanted to sleep with his sister, and unleash a barrage of awkwardly profuse "real talk about love and pain" upon the injured Hinrich. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer then yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the booze stank in the room?!" before being told by Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin that games are not optional. A visibly intoxicated Boozer fouled out of his team's defeat in the fourth quarter.
Even though he had another solid outing, Atlanta starter Kris Medlen fell to 1-4 as his Braves lost to the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Medlen, snacking on biscuits after the game, blamed his spotty start to the season on fatigue based on his home life. "I've got young boys, and they're up at all hours," he said. "I've only been a little off, which just makes me think I could be 5-0 if it weren't for those Medlen kids!"
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.
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.
In case you were busy learning how boring Nevada is outside of Las Vegas, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Texas's Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, but he was forced to settle for a near shutout as Marwin Gonzalez singled late in the Rangers' 7-0 win over the Houston Astros. "He sure did mar my win tonight, didn't he?" Darvish asked rhetorically after the game, before adding, "see, you can make puns out of anyone's name. Not just mine, Yu guys."
Kobe Bryant got his 19th career triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 101-81, in a critical Western Conference showdown. The Lakers also retired star center Shaquille O'Neal's no. 34 at the game. Bryant showed great respect for his former teammate, saying, "He's the best player I've ever suited up next to. I mean, even Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal." Bryant's eyes narrowed, as a flood of memories came back to him before he added, "But, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Bryant's eyes narrowed yet further as he felt compelled to add, "But Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before Bryant's eyes became somehow even narrower as he said, "But Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Then Bryant, his eyes now impossibly narrow, added, "But, of course, Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before he closed his eyes completely, swallowed hard, and said, "and neither of those guys could hold Elden Campbell's jock."
In case you were busy planning the ultimate prank (hint: you need Krazy Glue, a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and three rubber snakes), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite a gruesome leg injury to reserve forward Kevin Ware, Louisville knocked off Duke, 85-63, to book a spot in the Final Four. "Man, that's the worst thing that I've ever seen on a basketball court," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his postgame press conference, "and I'm not talking about the refereeing. Zing. But seriously, I'm just gutted by what I saw today. Really soul-shaking stuff out there. And not just the refereeing — I'm sorry, I just can't stop zinging those guys. I know this isn't the time. Much as it wasn't the time for them to call a foul on every play right after Kevin hurt his leg. Damn it! Must. Stop. Zinging. Refs."
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears were shocked by the Louisville Cardinals in the regional semifinals of the Women's NCAA Tournament, 82-81. "Can you dunk away the tears?" Griner asked her teammates after the game, before a horrifying wave of loneliness washed over her as she realized she was the only person in the room who could answer that question. Griner was later seen, alone in the deserted Chesapeake Energy Arena, yelling, "I feel nothing!" as she dunked ball after ball through the unguarded nets.
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.
In case you were out drinking away the memories of all the birthday parties you didn't get to have as a child because you were born on February 29, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
College basketball's topsy-turvy season continued as Virginia beat Duke in Charlottesville, 73-68. While this might have appeared to be a massive upset based on the AP rankings, Las Vegas actually had the game as a virtual pick 'em, due to Virginia's recent form at home and the continued absence of Duke's Ryan Kelly. In unrelated news, this weekend's foam party at the Duke PIKE house has been canceled due to lack of funds after a "shockingly big loss on what should've been a sure thing," according to fraternity treasurer Charles 'Chip' Willoughby Jr.
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.