Monday, May 7, 2012

NHL Playoff Suspensions

Over the years, especially since the 2004 lockout, concussions have been an epidemic in the league.  Many of the league's stars have fallen victim to it in varying degrees.  Patrice Bergeron missed almost an entire season right after the lockout with a concussion, then missed just 2 games with another last postseason.  Sidney Crosby has missed large parts of the last two seasons with concussions, a huge blow to the sport being that Crosby is arguably the premier player in the league.  Marc Savard, the Bruins' best pure scorer, suffered two separate injuries, one on a dirty hit by Penguin Matt Cooke in 2009, and a career ending concussion on a relatively clean play in Colorado last year.

Claude Giroux, probably the best player left in the playoffs, was suspended today by Brendan Shanahan,  the league's decision maker on player safety, for one game following a shoulder to a Devil player in game 4 yesterday.  The internet blew up today with Flyer fans up in arms over the decision to take Giroux out of the game that could potentially eliminate Philadelphia (NJ leads 3-1 in the series).  THIS IS ABSOLUTELY THE CORRECT DECISION, AND HE IS LUCKY HE DIDN'T GET MORE.  

Most of the arguments are based on the decision that Shanahan made not to suspend Nashville's Shea Weber earlier in the playoffs for slamming Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass in the final seconds of game 1 in the Preds' first round series with Detroit.  And those arguments are warranted, as I was shocked myself that Weber was allowed to play in game 2.  However, the big problem with the league office handing down of suspensions prior to this year was inconsistency.  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it before Shanahan took over.  After every hit that is reviewed, the NHL releases a video clearly explaining their decision.  Here is the link to the Giroux video.

Putting the Weber situation aside for a minute, you can't argue with this at all from a neutral position.  Giroux's full intent was to release a high, late hit on Zubris after his disagreement of a hit earlier in his shift (which was clean).  Giroux himself missed time earlier in the year with a concussion, so he of all players should be on board with getting rid of head shots in the game, and any league attempt of doing so through suspensions.  Philly fans will blame the league if they are to lose this series, even though they have been thoroughly outplayed by an inferior New Jersey squad.  

Shea Weber should have been suspended, and I'm not quite sure why he wasn't.  Get this straight though, Shanahan's efforts to make his explanation videos at all is a giant step in the right direction for the league.  He has been completely right in almost every single one of his decisions, so stop harping on the one he got wrong and realize that no matter who you are a fan of, Claude Giroux deservedly will sit in a luxury box while his team fights for their season without him tomorrow night.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reality Check

(Hannah Foslien)

The 2012 Red Sox are not a good baseball team, plain and simple. They have Pedroia, Gonzalez (went 0-8 today), and Ortiz, and that's it. The other six guys in the lineup are solid major league bench players, not every day MLB starters.

Let's take a look at the other six starters:

Mike Aviles (SS): Has surpassed everyones expectations and has been solid for the Sox. But solid isn't going to get the job done in the AL East. He is a career .286 hitter in five seasons and is hitting just .257 this year.

Ryan Sweeney (OF): Also has surpassed peoples expectations this season as he is hitting .354 on the year. He is a career .286 hitter as well and is a not what you would call a high-profile player. He is a "good" big league player.

Cody Ross (OF): Has hit over .300 only once in his nine year career and has a .261 career batting average in those nine years. Ross is hitting .267 this year with five home runs. Ross is another guy who at this stage in his career is a solid bench guy to have on your team. But to be an every day starting outfielder in the AL East? Nope.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C): There was a point in Salty's career where he went to see a sports psychologist because he couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher, literally. He is also a career .244 hitter and is hitting .238 this year for the Sox. Granted catchers aren't known for putting up great offensive numbers, but let's not forget about the Sox 29th ranked ERA with a 5.44. Salty is in charge of the pitchers and has to be held somewhat responsible for the terrible ERA.

Will Middlebrooks (3B): The Sox top prospect has adjusted well to the big leagues, but he is not a proven big leaguer by any means. Middlebrooks hit his first career home run today (grand slam) and is on his way up to making a name for himself.

Marlon Byrd (OF): An early season trade between the Sox and Cubs brought Byrd to Boston who was 3 for 43 in Chicago this season (.070 BA) and is hitting .256 as a Sock. This season marks Byrd's 12th season in the Bigs and his "prime" is far behind him.

Bench players:

Nick Punto: Hitting .148 on the year with nine strikeouts in 27 AB's.
Kelly Shoppach: Hitting .242 with 16 strikeouts in 33 AB's. For all you non math wizzes, that means he is striking out almost 50% of the time.
Darnell McDonald: Hitting .184 on the year.

To sum it up, the every day starters are solid bench players for MLB standards, and the bench players are every day AAA players, not MLB players. Not a very good recipe for success. Thanks, Theo.

Now on to the pitching staff...

Jon Lester: The supposed "ace" of the staff has posted a 4.62 ERA and is 1-2 on the year.

Josh Beckett: The other guy who is supposed to have "ace" stuff has a 4.45 ERA and is 2-3 in five starts.

Clay Bucholz: Where should I start with Mr. Bucholz? He has an 8.69 ERA (league worst) and has given up seven home runs already. His 1.897 WHIP is also among one of the leagues worst. Opponents are hitting .331 off of him.

Felix Doubront: He has been one of the more consistent starters for the Sox, but still has a 5.19 ERA. Doubront is a definite work-in-progress but has looked O.K. this season. But being just O.K. is not acceptable if you are wearing a Red Sox uniform.

Daniel Bard: You can argue he has been the most impressive starter this season. Bard has posted 4.38 ERA and is 2-3 on the year. Pretty remarkable when you are reminded that he hadn't started a game since 2007.

Granted the Sox have $79 million on the disabled list right now, there aren't any excuses for being seven games back and 11-16 overall other than simply not having the talent. This 2012 Red Sox team is only going to be as good as their starting pitching.

Ellsbury will be back, Crawford will be back, and you have to think Gonzalez will snap out of his funk sometime soon. But as for now, this team just doesn't have the talent and it's no surprise that they are seven games back in the AL East.

I also want to add that this is not Bobby Valentine's fault at all. Yes he has been a batter too late here and there with the pitchers, but when it comes down to it, the players have to perform and they haven't been. He also doesn't have many options on the bench or in the bullpen as we have seen.

Cherry on top: Chris Davis picked up the win against the Sox today. He is a position player.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sox drop two of three to Oakland

(John E. Sokolowski-US Presswire)

Disappointing is the only way to describe these past three games for the Sox. The A's held on to win 4-2 tonight and in what was a great opportunity to get on a roll against a struggling A's team, the Sox go on to lose two out of three games and drop to 11-13 on the year.

Besides the positive performance from the BULLPEN and the promising debut of Will Middlebrooks (2-3 with a double, stolen base, and a walk), there was nothing really positive to take out of this series. The offense was abysmal, Adrian Gonzalez continues to struggle, Kevin Youkilis was put on the 15-day DL, and the starting pitching was just O.K.

The Red Sox currently have $78+ million of their payroll on the DL. You can make all the excuses in the world for this team, but the bottom line is they just have to play better.

The offense was 0-12 with runners in scoring position tonight and left ten men on base. Teams will lose nine times out of ten with a stat as miserable as that.

Daniel Bard cruised through five innings, but fell apart in the sixth. It seems to be a reoccurring theme for Red Sox starters where they look great for the first half of the game, but have that one inning where they implode and allow three or more runs to score. Something that needs to be fixed, fast.

And you may be thinking, relax, it's only May. Well here's the deal. The Red Sox missed the playoffs by one game last year. Every game matters whether its April, May, or September.

The Sox have a day off tomorrow before hosting a three-game series with the Orioles who are off to a hot start in 2012. Josh Beckett has a sore lat muscle and will miss his start on Saturday. Aaron Cook will fill in for Beckett and try to make a case as to why he belongs in the rotation.

Beckett is expected to make his following start on May 10 against the Indians.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sox option Lars Anderson to AAA; Cook recalled?

(Kelly O'Connor)

Following the Sox 5-3 loss to the A's tonight, Ben Cherington told reporters that Lars Anderson was being sent back down to AAA.

Anderson came up in a big spot with the tying runs on base in the 9th and struck out on a ball not even close to the strike zone. Something tells me that even if Anderson did get a hit in that spot, he would still be packing his bags for Pawtucket due to the Aaron Cook situation.

As of today, Aaron Cook can opt out of his deal and become a free agent, although it seems that will not happen and he will join the Red Sox as early as tomorrow or Thursday.

The big question is, what are the Sox going to do with him? Cook is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 33.1 IP for Pawtucket this season. Is he going to be put in the bullpen? Or are they going to go with a six-man rotation for a while? While Cook would rather stay as a starter, he would certainly be a welcome addition to a sketchy bullpen.

It isn't out of the question to go with a six-man rotation. Following tomorrow night's game, the Sox will prepare for a 20-games-in-20-days stretch. Having a six-man rotation for this stretch could help keep all of the starters fresh and give each of them one extra day of rest in between starts.

It would also be a great time for evaluation and figure out roles for the staff. If Bard continues to pitch well as a starter through this stretch of games, the bullpen chatter has to stop. If Doubront struggles as he did tonight, maybe you throw him in the bullpen and give Cook a shot in the five-man rotation.

And don't forget about the return of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is expected to return to the Sox at the end of May. Needless to say, every starter (with the exception of Lester and Beckett), is fighting for their spot in the rotation. With the promising production from Cook, and the return of Daisuke, a few bad starts in a row could mean a trip to the 'pen, or even AAA.

Assessment of Bruins Title Defense

At this point one year ago, the Bruins were getting ready for game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series up 2-0 against Philadelphia.  As fans, the dream of a Stanley Cup was still in the beginning stages, but the B's were playing their best all year and looked as good as any team in the league.  Fast forward to now, and Claude Julien's squad is a week removed from a season ending game 7 loss to seventh seeded Washington.

Unlike any other sport, all 16 teams that qualify for the Cup playoffs have a truly equal shot at finishing as Champions.  That has never been more evident as it was this year, with favorites Vancouver, Boston, and Detroit being taken out before the playoff beards truly took shape.  While the end result is just as devastating as any, there are a few things that need to be taken into account before writing off the B's title defense as a failed one.

First of all, Andrew Ference has been quoted on WEEI as saying the players on last year's team attributed their near perfect health as the main reason they were able to win it all in 2011.  That was clearly not the case this year, as Adam McQuaid, Tuuka Rask, and Nathan Horton all had their seasons end before the playoffs even started.  Patrice Bergeron led a cavalry of banged up Bruins that were able to play through the pain courageously in the Capitals series.  Bergeron, possibly the premiere face off man in the world, was not able to take his usual spot in the center dot, creating a huge disadvantage right off the bat.  While Boston certainly won't make injuries an excuse, good fortune was not on their side this time around.

Also, there is no shame in losing a series to the high octane, physical Capitals.  This team was much better than their seven seed indicated, as a dreadful start led to the firing of their coach before January.  Alex Ovechkin led his team on a tear in the second half, and on a pace that would have made them a shoe-in for the Southeast division title and a three seed if not for the bad start.

This series was also the CLOSEST SERIES IN PLAYOFF HISTORY, with all seven games being decided by one goal, including four games that went to overtime.  One more lucky bounce, or Braden Holtby not playing the best hockey of his entire life and the B's not only win the series, but face Philadelphia in a bloodbath second round rematch.

The 2012 Boston Bruins will be remembered for their disappointing finish following up a Stanley Cup season.  However, night in and night out this team played hard and fought through adversity to another division title.  Through all the injuries and setbacks, they never wavered and defended their title with dignity, the way a defending champ should.  Their core will remain intact, and the front office has done a great job ensuring that they will have as good a chance as any to win another Cup with this group for the next five or six years.