Sunday, April 19, 2015

What the Celtics can win in this series

The Celtics have essentially no chance to beat the Cavs in a 7-game series. Even winning a single game seems far-fetched. But there are some things the Celtics have a good chance to win in this series: the experience, an increase in the trade-value of current players, the solidifying of Brad Stevens' reputation as a quality coach, and an increase of the team's appeal to top talent in the league.

Playoff experience is priceless. And while the C's aren't contending for the 2015 NBA Championship, the postseason experience some of these players get in the next few weeks could help them in future playoff runs. If the Celtics can play just one reasonably close game in this series, it will be a fantastic learning experience.

Isaiah Thomas has no playoff experience, neither does Tyler Zeller, Marcus Smart (obviously), or Kelly Olynyk (happy birthday to him, by the way). Getting a playoff series under their belts can only help them improve. Think about it, when has playoff experience ever made any player in any sport worse? Has anyone ever said "Oh, Player X was an okay player, until he played that series against Milwaukee. Ever since he got that playoff experience, he just hasn't been the same."

This series can also increase the trade-value of some of these players. If Isaiah Thomas averages 20+ points, if Tyler Zeller gets a double-double, if anyone makes a big game-winning shot, they could become more valuable in a future trade. Players with good postseason performances on their resume often command a higher price on the market.

Brad Stevens makes his players better. That's a scientific hypothesis that's been repeatedly tested this season, and continually reaffirmed. If Stevens can coach his ragtag bunch of misfits to a win or two, or just a few close games, then his reputation as a great coach will grow stronger. Players want to play for a coach who puts them in position to play better. And that also puts the player in position to get paid better.

That's one way the Celtics can increase their appeal to the league's top talent. Right now, the Celtics aren't a big draw for prime time players. But being a playoff team makes them more appealing than a lottery team. And being a playoff team that has proven postseason performers and a coach who makes players better, is even more appealing.

And as that appeal draws good-but-not-great players, the team becomes an even more appealing destination. Then eventually maybe you land the big star that puts you back into championship contention.

So this series won't end with the Celtics winning. But it might be the start of the Celtics' winning.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Red Sox have horrible pitching, and I don't mind one bit because they're entertaining

Wade Miley got knocked around for 7 runs Wednesday afternoon. He allowed 5 hits and 3 walks, and only got 5 outs. And I'm not upset about it. Nor am I upset that Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz were also recently roughed up. This rotation is shaky and unreliable, and I'm not bothered.

My surprising mellowness after a 10-5 defeat isn't because the Red Sox are 6-3. It isn't because the Sox have won all 3 of their series. And it isn't because they're in first place. The number responsible for the smile on my face is 56, as in the number of run the Sox have scored.

Because of the offense, this team is exponentially more entertaining than the 2014 Red Sox. They've scored 56 runs in 9 games (more than 6 per game). Through 9 games last year, the Sox had scored 33 runs (less than 4 per game). Last year it took the Sox 16 games to score 56 runs (3.5 per game).

So even when the pitching is awful, the team is still in the game. And even if it's 8-2, like it was at one point Wednesday, you still want to watch the Sox hit because they're capable of coming back. And even if they don't, they're not painful to watch as they were last year.

A healthy Dustin Pedroia is fun to watch at the plate, compared to what it was like watching an injured Pedroia struggle to hit. Mookie Betts is exciting at the plate, as opposed to the frustration that Jackie Bradley Jr. caused.

So the parade of poor pitching can continue, so long as the offense continues to keep the Sox in the game, so long as these at-bats aren't torturous to endure.

All I want from the 2015 Red Sox is to be entertained, and so far they have been entertaining.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Friday, April 10, 2015

These are the playoffs for the Bruins, and they're losing

For the Bruins, the playoffs started Thursday night, because they're staring elimination in the face. If they didn't realize this before losing to the Panthers 4-2, they realize it now. The B's no longer control their own playoff fate. They need help or they're out. They could even be knocked out before they take the ice against the Lightning Saturday night.

Before this loss to Florida, the Bruins were standing next to the electric chair. By losing, they've sat down in it. Now they need a call from the Governor, or a last-minute power outage to escape.

It's a good thing Claude Julien gave so much rest to guys on Tuesday night in Washington. It's a good thing that Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell were given so much ice time Wednesday. Because the B's really looked sharp and energized in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Speaking of Chris Kelly, the goalless streak extends to 26. And he had 12:26 of even-strength ice time in this game. David Pastrnak had 9:52.

You're playing back-to-back games. You have a 34-year old who hasn't scored since Valentine's Day. You have an 18-year old who has scored 10 goals since re-joining the team in January, and is +13 in that time. Which player will bring more energy? The 34-year old, or the 18-year old? Which will bring more offense and make more plays? The slumper or the scorer?

You have a coach who plays a man who hasn't scored in 25 games, over a man who has been scoring. Not just in Thursday night's game, but in the 3rd period of Wednesday night's 3-0 loss. In the 3rd period, down 3 goals, Julien gave Kelly 4:40 of even-strength ice time, and Pastrnak only 2:54.

Maybe Julien is planning on murdering someone, and he's trying to establish an insanity plea. He's certainly driving me crazy.

So here's the situation: The Senators have 97 points, the Penguins 96, the Bruins 95. The Sens and Penguins are in, the Bruins out. The Senators have 1 game left, the Penguins 2, the Bruins 1. If the Penguins win Friday night against the Islanders, they clinch their spot. If the Penguins lose in OT or a shootout, they can still clinch with 1 or 2 points on Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, the Senators are in Philly. The Bruins need them to lose in regulation to take their spot. If Pittsburgh wins either of their games (or loses both in OT/shootout), and if Ottawa wins, the Bruins will be eliminated before their game against Tampa Bay at 7:30 Saturday night.

And even if they get help, the B's will need to help themselves against the Lightning.

The Bruins were once in the driver's seat of their playoff destiny. Now they're outside of the car, and they need either the Senators or Penguins to give up their seats, or they'll get run over.

Photo Credit: Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Now that Braden Holtby is the new Bruins owner, maybe he'll do something about Chris Kelly's ice time

Braden Holtby now officially owns the Bruins. Three games this season, 3 shutouts, 88 saves. With the playoffs starting I don't know how active Braden Holtby will be in operating the Bruins' day-to-day operations. But hopefully we'll soon have a new GM, maybe a new coach, fewer reality TV shows, and please for the love of everything holy, less Chris Kelly. The Braden Holtby era of Bruins ownership has begun!

Give an assist (a rare one) to Kelly for Holtby's ability to acquire the team. Kelly had another goalless game Wednesday night. That's 25 in a row. He hasn't scored since February 13th. He hasn't had an assist since March 5th. And yet for some reason last night, with the Bruins down 3-0 in the 3rd period, Kelly got more even-strength ice time in the 3rd than he had in the 2nd or 1st. What the fuck, Claude?

There's nobody on this roster less likely to score a goal or contribute to a goal, and yet Claude Julien put him on the ice for the same number of shifts (6) as he had in the 1st and 2nd periods.

Chris Kelly isn't the only problem the Bruins have, nor are the Bruins' difficulties as simple to solve as reducing a defensive specialist's ice time when you need to score. But this is just baffling.

Kelly has spent over 6 hours on the ice since his last goal (360:46).

Down 3 goals in the 3rd, Kelly got 4:40 of even-strength ice time. David Pastrnak, who's scored 5 goals and 14 assists since Kelly last scored, was on the ice for 2:45. Kelly 4:40, Pastrnak 2:45. Are you kidding me? How is this even possible? I'm looking at the time on ice report on and I'm thinking that they must have made a number of mistakes, as this is simply ludicrous.

Kelly had more even-strength ice time in the 3rd than Pastrnak, Spooner, Connolly, Marchand, Krejci, Lucic, and Bergeron. That's right, Patrice fucking Bergeron. Why? How?

Those players have 99 combined goals this season. Kelly has 7. And only 3 in 2015. Those are guys getting paid millions because they can score, and they're playing less than a guy who hasn't scored in 25 games.

I can't even think about anything else today. You're down 3 goals. You have 20 minutes of hockey and you must score 3 goals in order to secure a valuable point. You have 12 forwards on your bench. Some of them have 20+ goals this season. Some have been carrying you the past few weeks with their offense. And so you send a guy riding a 25-game drought on the ice more than most of them.

So please, new Bruins owner Braden Holtby, tell Claude Julien that he either needs to change the way he plays favorites with the most offensively inept player on the team, or he needs to find a new team.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass

Monday, April 06, 2015

All I want/expect from the 2015 Red Sox is to not suck

I'm a little sick of hearing how Opening Day is a day for optimism and not a day to allow yourself to be pissed that Clay Buchholz is your "Ace." This team finished in last place, then lost its best player at the most important position. So let's be optimistic, but also realistic.

And if you truly are optimistic that the Red Sox are within arm's reach of another World Series, then you should be angrier than I am that the Sox didn't employ the left arm of Jon Lester to reach for that ring.

Is this team good enough to win the 2015 World Series? No. Good enough to make the World Series? Highly doubtful. Good enough to win a playoff series? Maybe. Good enough to make the playoffs? Solid chance. Good enough to contend for a playoff spot? Probably. Good enough to be above .500? Definitely. Good enough to not finish last? It fucking better be.

I'm sick of long pointless summers of Red Sox baseball. I'm sick of games played poorly by overrated prospects. Only 2 AL teams were struck out more often than the Red Sox (1,337 times). I'm sick of that. I just want to once again feel like these games mean something. I want to watch players who can play. All I want from the 2015 Red Sox is to not suck. Be a legitimate, watchable, respectable team.

I don't think I'm asking for much. I don't mind a "bridge season," so long as the bridge isn't as painful to cross as the Bourne Bridge with one lane open the Friday before Memorial Day. The not-optimistic reality is that 2015 will be a bridge season.

The rotation has tremendous depth in the middle, with five strong candidates to fill the #3 slot. That's as optimistic as I can phrase my assessment of the pitchers.

I don't know why everyone thinks the lineup is amazing. Probably because last year's was so terrible. The offense will be good, but I'm not sold on it being as great as everyone thinks it will be. If Dustin Pedroia doesn't improve, that's a problem. Mookie Betts has fewer than 200 MLB at-bats, so how can we be sure what he'll do in the next 600 ABs? Pablo Sandoval's regular season production isn't great, he hasn't slugged above .450 or hit 20 HRs since 2011. Shane Victorino is your starting right-fielder, 'nuf said about that.

David Ortiz is 39. His average, OBP, and SLG have all decreased in each of the last 3 seasons. He hit 35 homeruns last year, and maybe he'll hit 35 more, and maybe all his offensive numbers will rebound. But he's also 39. At that age, the "no" side of maybe gets larger and the "yes" side gets smaller. I'm not being a Debbie Downer, I'm being a Pragmatic Pete and a Factual Frank. The core of the lineup is 39 years old. It's a fact. On May 19th, he'll be closer to his 40th birthday than his 39th.

It's a good lineup. It will be less painful to watch than the 2014 Sox. But it won't be the Murderer's Row that some in this town seem to think it will be.

Then there's the bullpen. The most positive thing I can say about them is that I have no idea what they'll do.

I'm not trying to be pessimistic on Opening Day. It's sunny out, the snow is almost all melted away, I'm excited for the game, and I haven't been excited to see this team play in over a year. The Sox have a team that can be entertaining and relevant. And I think I'm going to enjoy the 2015 season because my expectations and hopes are rational. I won't be disappointed when this team finishes 3rd, or loses the Wild Card playoff game because it has no Ace. And if the Sox pull off a miracle, I'll be just as happy as the rest of you.

Enjoy the bridge season.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Bruins once again turn it on when it matters most, which is starting to piss me off

You're down 2-0 on the road against a good puck possession team. You're not supposed to win. Yet that's what the Bruins did against the Red Wings Thursday night. And that win could have significant playoff ramifications, as it puts the B's in a virtual tie with the Wings, who have a game in hand.

If the unlikely comeback wasn't enough of a surprise for you, how about the identity of the man who scored the game-winner? Zach Trotman. His first career goal.

I'm pleased that the Bruins won. Pleased, but not happy. I was momentarily happy when Trotman scored, and when Soderberg and Eriksson scored before that. I was happy the moment time expired and the Bruins won. But looking at the 60 minute performance as a whole, there's not much to be happy about.

Actually, I'm pissed that this Bruins team has an on/off switch, and its default setting is off. I'm pissed that to turn the switch, it takes a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd. I'm pissed that they either give it their all, or they give in. It's either full speed ahead, or full reverse with this team. And with a lot of the players.

Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg. Depending on which games you see them in, they either look like superstars, or 4th liners. There's no middle ground. There's no Goldilocks "just right" with them, it's either burning hot, or bone-chilling cold.

So I'm glad to see the Bruins turned it on late against the Red Wings last night. I'm also pissed that for two periods I had to watch them suck. And that it took two periods of crappy hockey for them to wake up and do their jobs.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bruins are interviewing for their own jobs

Here's a brain buster. In 2 words or less, tell me what the Boston Bruins need. By the way, the answer isn't "Tyler Seguin." Because 100% of the teams currently in the NHL playoff picture lack Tyler Seguin, and 100% of the teams that have Tyler Seguin are outside of the playoffs. What the Bruins need are efficiency experts. Like the efficiency experts in Office Space, who made all the Initech employees interview for their own jobs. The Bruins, from the front office to the coaching staff, from the top line to the healthy scratches, need to answer the question "What would you say you do here?"

The Bruins have 9 games to prove that they deserve their jobs. And even after those 9 games, the B's might only postpone their being fired. Making the playoffs isn't enough evidence to keep this team intact. If this team doesn't make the playoffs, or if they're once again outclassed and overmatched in the playoffs, heads will roll.

So what would those efficiency experts ask Peter Chiarelli?

Why did you trade Johnny Boychuk? Why were you in so much cap trouble that you needed to trade Johnny Boychuk? Why didn't you hold out for more in return for Seguin? Why do you consistently fail to acquire targeted players at the deadline? Why did you let Shawn Thornton go without replacing him with another enforcer or anyone who could fight? What do Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson add to the team's overall toughness? Why does Chris Kelly have a $3 million cap number? Why can't you afford a legitimate backup goalie?

The Bruins mismanaged the cap for years. And very few of us (myself included) noticed it. In fact, most of us praised them for locking up their talent long-term. But what they were really doing was slowly signing themselves into a corner.

The B's haven't just spent unwisely, their philosophy of what it takes to build a winning team is outdated. They're still trying to win the 2011 Stanley Cup, even though it's 2015. The players have changed, the game has changed, the competition has changed. Tuukka Rask isn't as good of a goalie as Tim Thomas was in the 2011 playoffs. Few goalies are ever that good. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are 4 years older. And Mark Recchi is working for the Penguins. Everything has changed except the Bruins' approach. And that strategic stubbornness stems from the front office and extends to the man behind the bench.

To Claude Julien's interview with the efficiency experts...

Do the players listen to you? Do they do what you tell them to? Do you trust them? Why is Milan Lucic on cruise control 90% of the time? Why do the defensemen make so many mistakes? Why so many turnovers? Why does Bergeron shoot 7th in the shootout one night, then 1st another night?

Claude Julien's system is a good system. Claude Julien is a very good coach. But Julien's system and his coaching are no longer good fits for the Bruins. It happens. It happened with Terry Francona and the Red Sox. Julien was the right coach for 2011, but in 2015 the Bruins need to rebuild and reshape. Perhaps the Bruins could rebuild around Julien's system, but I don't see why that should be a necessity. There are other ways to win. Besides, Julien is no longer enough of a motivating force in the Bruins' locker room.

Now to the roster interviews...

Why have only 2 of you scored 20 goals? Why have only 4 of you scored 15? Why are only 2 of you in the top 100 in points? Why does Dennis freaking Wideman have more points than all but one of you?

Tuukka, why do you let in soft goals in big games?

Brad, does your antagonizing act still work, or does it just give opponents extra power plays? Why are you still acting like every team is as easily annoyed as the 2011 Vancouver Canucks? And why only 17 assists?

Milan, where's the fight? Where are the goals? Do you even have an identity anymore? Do you want to make an impact anymore? Why do you skate like Frankenstein's monster on valium?

Zdeno and Dennis, have you considered Florida for retirement? Lovely weather, no snow, and they have a hockey team with some fight. And they have Disney World down there. Better rides than Canobie Lake, Zdeno.

Torey and Dougie, how does it feel to be 2 of the best forwards on this team?

Adam, you're the third best defenseman on the roster. Isn't that scary?

Mr. Paille, why is it that when I see you have 6 goals, I'm shocked you have so many? Also, you're a defensive player, yet you're -9. Why? If you don't score, and you don't prevent goals, why are you here? Can't the scoring people score on their own? And can't the goal preventers prevent goals on their own?

Loui, why does Carl Soderberg need to be handcuffed to you for you to succeed? Does he go to the bathroom with you too? What about when you're in bed with your wife? Does he do work for you there too, Tyler Seguin style?

Carl, how many more goals would you and the team have if you didn't have to babysit Loui Eriksson?

Mr. Pastrnak, what does it feel like knowing that if you didn't miraculously show up mid-season, this team would be royally screwed? And what's it like being so young, yet so much more skilled than most of your teammates?

Chris, what's it like getting paid $500,000 per goal? Did you know at that rate, Alex Ovechkin would be making $23.5 million this year? Chris, what do you do here that couldn't be replaced by a 3rd or 4th line grinder who costs less than $1 million against the cap? What is it you'd say you do here?

This team has 9 games to provide answers to some of these questions. This team has 9 games to show it has a pulse.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When I win PowerBall tonight, these are the jerseys I will buy

The Powerball jackpot is over $500 million tonight. That's two A-Rod contracts! I bought one quick-pick ticket and the PowerBall number is 33. Since 33 is one of the most important numbers in Boston sports (right up there with 9, 8, 12, and 6), I'm pretty sure I'll win.

Obviously the first thing I'll do is buy a plane ticket out of this dismal snow entombed part of the world, but after that I will purchase and have made the ultimate collection of sports jerseys:

Bill Belichick, Annapolis High School football
If my memory serves me correctly, in A Football Life, Belichick wore #60 at Annapolis High. Of course I'll have to hire a researcher to verify this. Nothing is worse than a cool jersey ruined by inaccuracies. In Monterrey, California I asked a guy in a band wearing a #12 Michigan football jersey whose jersey he was wearing. He said Tom Brady. I didn't have the heart to tell him that Brady wore 10 at Michigan. If you're going to be obscure, be accurate.

Customized Patriots jersey, Number: 12.5, Name: PSI
Because I have a sense of humor.

Jamie O'Hara, Notre Dame football
Vince Vaughn's character in Rudy. The only way in hell I'd wear a Notre Dame jersey.

Tim Thomas, Jokerit Helsinki
The team Thomas played for during the 2004-05 lockout. It was one of many European stints in Thomas' career. And although not the most meaningful or successful of Thomas' Scandinavian exploits, Jokerit's court jester logo is just too ridiculously awesome.

Roberto Luongo, Quebec Nordiques
Unlike most Nordiques jerseys, this isn't a throwback. This is a throwFORWARD. Luongo is on the Florida Panthers, who might one day move to Quebec. This jersey won't honor the past, it will predict the future.

Julian Washington, Miami Sharks football
LL Cool J's character in Any Given Sunday. A Willie Beamen jersey would also be cool. I was going to have a Luther Lavay (Lawrence Taylor's character) jersey, but I'm seeing that those are available on eBay. When I'm a billionaire, I don't want to be wearing jerseys on the same level as some middle-aged Giants fan in Paramus, NJ.

Wade Boggs, Springfield Nuclear softball team
From The Simpsons episode "Homer at the Bat," which was one of the best Simpsons episodes of all time, one of the best set of sports guest stars on a TV show, and was the first time The Simpsons beat Cosby in the ratings.

Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, Providence Grays
In 1884 Old Hoss Radbourn had a record of 59-12. He made 73 starts and had 73 complete games. He also had 2 saves. He threw 678.2 innings. He's a Hall of Famer, and currently has one of the funniest Twitter accounts out there. All the pictures I can find of him in a 20 second Google search are him wearing a Boston Beaneaters uniform. But his best year was in Providence for the Grays.

Mo Vaughn, Wareham Gatemen
Cape Cod League baseball has produced a massive amount of baseball talent, including Maurice Vaughn, who was one of the first sports stars in my life as a fan.

Neon Boudeaux, Western University basketball
Shaq's character in Blue Chips. They gave him a Lexus, he didn't want it.

Jackmerius Tacktheratrix, Michigan State football
Hingle McCringleberry, Penn State football
Mergatroid Skittle, Louisville football
The player formerly known as Mousecop, Missouri football
My favorite players from the Key and Peele football name skits. Obviously the name on the back of Mousecop's jersey would be the symbol. And maybe another jersey with "Mousecop" on the back, for the time before he changed his name to the symbol.

And there would be many, many more. Mostly obscure Red Sox players from the late 90s and early 00s. Butch Huskey. Morgan Burkhart, Pete Schourek, Rico Brogna, Hipolito Pichardo. I'd get each of Michael Bishop's CFL jerseys, and all of Rohan Davey's NFL Europe and Arena football jerseys. A Tom Glavine LA Kings jersey. All the Brady 6 quarterbacks. I'd probably squander all $500 million on sports jerseys.