Happy Friday, all! The week is nearly over and its time to overload on sports this weekend.
MLB--THE DOPES ARE DOPING
With the recent report coming out of ESPN that their investigative television arm, OTL (Outside the Lines), has discovered that Major League Baseball intends to suspend around 20 players up to 100 games each for multiple performance enhancing drug (PEDs) violations. This could be the biggest PED scandal in all sports (well, maybe there are some who would argue that the Tour de France cycling blood doping scandal of 2006 will end up having been bigger, but I’m not in Paris--I’m an obnoxious American--and I haven’t ridden a bike since I crashed my first car as a teenager).
The two biggest names on the list are Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Reports indicate that both would receive basically a double-suspension: 50 games for 1st offense of being listed as receiving PEDs from the scumbag drug-dealer Biogenesis founder, Tony Bosch; and the second offense and another 50 games for previously lying to MLB about any connection to scumbag drug-dealer Biogenesis founder, Tony Bosch.
Obviously, this is huge news for MLB and yet another black eye as the suspensions and subsequent appeals process and lawyering will likely keep this in the news for a long time. If Bosch sounds familiar, he was the greasy, slicked-back hair and sunglasses-wearing distributor in the Red Sox and Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez’s 2009 drug test failures. After coming to the attention of MLB then, he resurfaced again as a central figure in former Yankees Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera’s suspensions.
The list of players implicated have severe ramifications on pennant races beyond the two MVPs (A-Rod & Braun), as the list includes players in the midst of contending such as Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, pitcher Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals (although reports indicate Gonzalez may not be disciplined as his mention may involve legal supplements), Jesus Montero of the Mariners, and Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers. Add in the players on teams not in contention further weakening those squads, and at best these players having to play with pending appeals and daily haranguing and questioning from the media, and there is a significant impact on performance and races.
This is a headache that is just beginning for any players mentioned in the report, and no amount of Asprin is going to make this headache go away anytime soon.
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BOSTON RED SOX--SPAHN AND SAIN AND PRAY FOR RAIN:
George V. Hern, sports editor of the Boston Post back in 1948 wrote a famous poem for the Boston Post:
First we'll use Spahn
then we'll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.
which was eventually shortened by the Boston fan base to just: “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain.” After hall of fame pitcher Warren Spahn and teammate Johnny Sain combined to go 8-0 over 12 days (not games, 12 days) during the Boston Braves one run to the National League pennant, the sports pages had a little fun with the dynamic duo at the top of the rotation.
Why delve into the history of Boston sports--especially referencing a title run by a team that hasn’t played in Boston for over 50 years? Because in 2013, the modern day American League Boston Red Sox have their own version of a similar top of the rotation one-two punch. Of course, I haven’t seen many poems written in the honor of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
Buchholz and Lester, and pray for...no Fenway molesters?
Lester and Buchholz and pray for...does anything rhyme with Buchholz?
(OK, so poems are not going to happen!)
As a team (through 5/29/2013), the starters have a 3.69 ERA, average 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.39 strikeout to walk ratio. The key components of that surge in pitching performance and subsequent rise to the top of the AL East, have been Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Buchholz is 7 -0 with a 1.73 ERA in his first ten starts. He averages a strikeout per inning, and has allowed opposing batters a .194 batting average and sports a tidy 1.05 WHIP (average of combined Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched). Lester has hit a few bumps recently, but he is still sporting a 3.34 ERA in eleven starts with a 6-1 record. Lester has 60 strikeouts in 72⅔ innings. He has held opposing batters a .225 batting average and sports a WHIP of 1.11.
Between their top two starters, the Red Sox two stars are a combined 13-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 145⅓ innings (through 5/29/2013). Unfortunately, Buchholz was pushed back for two starts with a right AC Joint issue that the team kept insisting is not serious. Fortunately, he looked just as good as usual in a 5 inning complete game shutout in a rain-shortened appearance. Lester has had two rough starts the past two starts, causing his ERA to jump from 2.72 to 3.34 as he allowed 9 earned runs in 13 innings.
However, this season has been a huge leap forward for the two young starters compared to last season, when Lester suffered through his worst season as a professional and Buchholz had his worst season since his first full season. Buchholz was 11-8 last year with a 4.56 ERA and Lester suffered through a 9-14 record with a 4.82 ERA. These two are the key to the Red Sox rotation as they battle for first place one year after a last place finish in 2012. As their two young guns go, so goes the Red Sox fortune.
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AROUND THE NFL--MISCELLANEOUS RAMBLINGS:
This is the slow season of the NFL (I like using 17th century nautical terms like “doldrums” and “horse latitudes” when referring to in-between sports seasons so much that a reader once asked if I was a merchant sailor previously--nope, just an English major in college who took too many “Important Writers of the Romantic Age and Industrial Revolution” courses. So with great pains I will restrain myself here), and news is often consumed with one of two reports: injuries, or overly optimistic reports of players that fall into one of the these two categories: “Player X and Player Y are developing a rapport and are in sync on the practice field during non-contact drills”, or “Player Z is in the best shape of his life and has been making plays all over the practice field and opening eyes in non-contact drills”. The problem? The qualifier of “non-contact drills”. Until there are real games, real contact, and the grind of performing while tired, hot, and the pressure mounts, any reports tend to be next to useless.
I grew up reading Will McDonough of the Boston Globe and his groundbreaking NFL Notes Sunday column. While the Sunday NFL Notes continued, it was hardly ever the same after McDonough passed, though there was some stellar writers such as Mike Reiss (now at ESPN), and Albert Breer (now featured at NFL.com). Most recently, Greg Bedard had been doing an excellent job and has become the latest to use the high-profile position to move on, as he recently moved to Sports Illustrated. Amazingly, as a Rutgers alumni, Bedard is NOT in training camp as a defensive back for the New England Patriots. While the Boston Globe refused to see the wisdom of hiring me to write the Sunday NFL Notes column, Sully and Beeze made a horrific mistake they’ll regret the rest of their lives by giving an insane lunatic a forum to share his inane ramblings were nice enough to let me contribute to YouGabSports.com.
Around the NFL this week, there has been a lot of noise out of Detroit, as new running back Reggie Bush, who is well-versed in talented but underachieving offenses, started spouting about the championship level caliber of his new team, which went 4-12 last season. After all his talk about Miami challenging New England in the AFC East these past years, I doubt that the Green Bay fan base is too worried.
Conversely, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, starting a new contract extension, has had his owner come out whatever shuttered Ford factory he hides out in for years at a time with the unsaid but implied need to perform or else. Not often a coach is in that spot in the first year of a three-year contract extension, but going from double-digit wins to double-digit losses with the core of their two big stars (quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson) still intact on offense. That the team seems as undisciplined as the Oakland Raiders at times is puzzling, as Schwartz comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree which is renowned for not putting up with too much in the way of shenanigans.
The Houston Texans spent a ton of cash on safety Ed Reed signing him away from the World Champion Baltimore Ravens. Houston is paying Reed $15 million over three years after eleven years in Baltimore. While still a veteran leader, the cost seemed excessive at the time as the team let younger, more athletic safety Glover Quin depart in free agency to Detroit, where he signed a 5 year $25 million contract. Quin is only 27 and arguably the better player at this point of their careers. Reed, at 34, was noticeably not the same player the past few years and seemed to have regress with age and injuries. Now, reports are that Reed--who had hip surgery this off-season after signing with Houston--is now talking about potentially not being able to play in week one. Remember, in 2010 he underwent hip surgery while in Baltimore and missed the first seven games. After their debacle in the playoffs against New England, the Texans need to ready to go in week one and put their finish to 2012 behind them, and this injury to Reed raises big concerns.
No trip through the NFL is complete without checking in with the most controversial coach in the NFL, Rex Ryan of the New York Jets. The Jets will actually have an entertaining controversy on the field between the numbers instead of solely in the media. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, one year removed from one of the most ridiculous contract extensions ever given to a mediocre quarterback, is locked in a battle this summer with rookie 2nd round pick, quarterback Geno Smith. With the media keeping track of statistics by the quarterbacks during OTAs. Seth Walder, who was charting completions and attempts for the New York Daily News on twitter, and reported that Sanchez. He also noted that during practice Sanchez crumbled during a two-minute drill. This looks to be a delicious battle for the back pages of the New York papers all through the summer.
Add in, of course, that neither quarterback has any competent receivers to throw the ball to, and the New York headache that was to have left when super-hype quarterback Tim Tebow was released will not go away. Reports today indicate that the Jets only competent pass-catcher, Santonio Holmes, may not be ready for training camp after two surgeries for a Lisfranc injury (foot) that caused him to miss 12 games last season.
Of course, Holmes is not the only walking wounded at wide receiver in greater New Jersey. Jets wideouts Jeremy Kerley, a heel injury; Clyde Gates, a hamstring injury; and last year’s second round draft pick Stephen Hill, a knee injury; leaves the Jets weakened at a weak position in OTAs.
A weak offensive line (an offensive offensive line, no?), a dearth of playmakers on offense, and a defense that traded its best player (Darrelle Revis), is a recipe for more dysfunction for the most dysfunctional family on the Jersey shore.
Finally, the news out of New England is pure panic and hand-wringing in regards to star tight end Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski under the knife yet again for his forearm--which is a good sign actually, as it means the infection was cleared out and the doctors successfully replaced the old plate in his arm--and out for at least two months, the great unknown surrounds his back injury. As coach Bill Belichick is notoriously tight-lipped (loose lips sink ships--remember, he grew up in Annapolis, MD around the US Naval Academy as his father, Steve--a Navy veteran in WWII-- was a scout for the Navy football team for over 30 years), no one knew much about Gronkowski playing through chronic back pain. Reports fly fast and furious about the injury on Twitter, news sites, blogs, and over the water cooler, but the fact is that no one really knows and until he sees his doctor in a few weeks, no one knows what the next step is for Gronkowski. In my opinion, if he’s out two months for the forearm, have any necessary back surgery and put him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and get him as healthy as possible for the second half of the season and the playoffs. Any extra time to heal the forearm and not rush back is a positive. The Patriots are built to survive without any player (other than Tom Brady, 2008 excluded) on the roster, and caution is recommended with such an important player.
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NHL--DOUBLE (OVERTIME) TROUBLE
I paid the price at work on Thursday, as staying up past midnight for the Boston Bruins to put away the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals made for a short shift of sleep. Bruins center Patrice Bergeron scored after over 35 minutes of overtime to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the series against the heavily favored Penguins. The Bruins are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years.
The Penguins corrected a number of mistakes from the first two games and got excellent goaltending from Thomas Vokoun after his sieve-like performance the first two games of the series. The Bruins scored first in the first minutes of the initial period with the NHL Playoffs leading scorer David Krejci’s shot deflecting off the Pittsburgh defenseman’s skates and past Vokoun. Credit Pittsburgh with not folding their tents and going home, as Pittsburgh tightened up on defense and eventually tied the game in the second period with a nifty goal by Chris Kunitz.
The Penguins and Bruins both had ample opportunities to score in the third period and first overtime. Both teams benefited from excellent goaltending with Boston goalie Tuukka Rask making 53 saves and Vokoun stopping 38 shots on net.
For Pittsburgh, it is demoralizing to go on the road after laying an egg in back to back games at home and then playing their best game of the series (of the month? of their entire playoff run so far?) and still losing the game in heart-breaking fashion. For Pittsburgh, they have a game four in Boston to try to extend the series. As Bruins fans are well aware, a 3-0 lead is never safe in any series and they need to wrap this series up and then wait for the next challenger in the West.
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OK, that’s it for today...thanks so much for indulging and reading.
For those of you who made it this far and are thinking, “who the heck is this idiot writing this bologna?”, I’m Hal Bent. To answer your next thought “So what. Who cares?”, well I’m from the Boston area (heading south towards the Cape) and have been a sports enthusiast my entire life. My earliest sports memory involves the Red Sox losing the one game playoff after their incredible collapse during the season against the Yankees in 1978 and that set the stage for a lifetime of sports pathos aplenty.
Some of the regulars here know me from other sites and I've been a lurker and commenting on posts occasionally. If you don't know me...well, you were lucky up until today. The boring stuff about me is that I’ve written for http://www.BostonSportPage.com since 2005, write about the New England Patriots for http://www.MusketFire.com, am a (heck, currently the only) contributor to the comic strip humor site http://www.DailyComicsReview.com in my non-sports writing, will contribute to a start-up football site (launching July 1) http://www.cover32.com also I contribute, linger, and learn about other sports I don’t follow passionately (yet) at http://www.t-s-b-n.com, and am excited to contribute here at YouGabSports. I am on Twitter far more often than I should be and you can find me at http://www.twitter.com/halbent01. I am on the F-Book (as some wryly call it) at http://www.facebook.com/HalBent3.
The even less interesting stuff about me is that I am a fan of all sports: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, and Texas Hold ’em Poker. I love baseball analytics, which is odd because I was horrible at math. I am a fan of all Boston sports teams, the Washington Redskins (long, boring story), the St. Louis Cardinals (even longer, more boring story), and a huge English Premier League footy fan strongly aligned with the People’s Club, the true pride of Liverpool, the Everton FC Toffees (I refuse to let Red Sox owner John Henry shove the Liverpool FC team down my craw like he has been attempting to do since purchasing the collection of whining maggots not worthy of wearing blue--I’m talking to you, Suarez club.
Yet even more unremarkable information about me is that I am a craft-beer enthusiast, watch and read tons of sci-fi and action thrillers, an unabashed fan of horrible, cheesy, unwatchable, and unintentionally funny movies. I watch too many cartoons and anything that makes me laugh. I obsess over Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, comic strips, comic books, comic book movies, graphic novels, websites about comic books, cartoons about comic books, and books about comic books. I am involved in more fantasy sports leagues than I should be in more different sports than I should be, spend too much time thinking and strategizing in regards to them, play sports video games, love the Sports Mogul games online, and still have my Strat-O-Matic games back 20 odd years--even if only to have my 1988 Ricky Henderson Strat-O-Matic card--the greatest Strat-O-Matic card other than Ken Phelps. Somehow I function in regular society and at a government 9 to 5 job and meet up regularly to continue an ongoing 20+ year argument originally about about the Modern American Poets and has evolved into other literature, sports, and life, the universe and everything with my best friend at the local watering hole each week.
I’m married to an incredible, beautiful woman who all my friends believe (this is their most popular theory they’ve come up with) that I have kept drugged with some kind of mind-altering concoction for 15+ years to make her believe she is really married to someone more handsome, richer, and not a dingbat like I am. I also have two unique, intelligent, and wonderful children who look and take after their mother (thank God!), but have next to zero interest in sports (WWE Wresting and Monster Trucks, yes. Disney tween shows and video games, yes. Sports--other than live events where the interest ranges to merchandise and food only, not the product on the field so much--no.).
So that’s me (I decided to keep the introduction at the end so no one felt guilty skipping it) and want to again make sure I point out who you have to blame thank Sully and Beezer for reaching out and letting me contribute here, and thank you for reading.
Have a great weekend, all!