Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Yankees Outdo Red Sox in Soccer

Liverpool FC will be playing AS Roma at Fenway Park on July 25th. The Sox owners also own Liverpool so it makes sense. However, the Yankees recently announced that they'll be hosting a pair of soccer games, and both of them blow Fenway's out of the water.

On July 22 in Yankee Stadium, Chelsea FC (recently crowned European Champions) will play Paris St. Germain (PSG). PSG finished second in the French league, and will be playing in next season's Champions League. So will Chelsea, who finished 6th in England, but are still one of the most popular teams in the world, loaded with star talent.

On August 8th, Yankee Stadium hosts an even bigger game. Real Madrid are playing AC Milan. Real Madrid won the Spanish league (for the 32nd time), and have won the Champions League 9 times. AC Milan finished 2nd in the Italian league, have won that league 18 times, and have won the Champions League 7 times.

All four teams the Yankees host will be in the 2012-13 Champions' League.

Meanwhile, Fenway Park will host the 8th place English team, and the 7th place Italian team. Neither team will be in the Champions League or any other European competition. The two teams combined to win 30 games, lose 28, and draw 18.

Why care so much about soccer teams and exhibition games? Because it's another example of how big a world the Fenway Sports Group entered into when they bought Liverpool. They're out of their element.

Real Madrid is worth over three times as much as Liverpool, $1.877 billion compared to $619 million (Source: Forbes). Real Madrid and AC Milan combined are worth $2.866 billion, while Liverpool and AS Roma are together worth $973 million.

The Red Sox and Liverpool will both make some money when Liverpool comes to town, but the on field product isn't nearly as exciting or as enticing or as profitable as the giants that will be playing down at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees aren't attached to a mediocre English team. They can invite the best teams from Europe to play. And that will attract fans who will pay lots of money to see them play.

Liverpool is a 2nd rate team in danger of becoming 3rd rate. Fenway Sports Group was a big fish in a small pond when they bought Liverpool. But now they're in a much larger ocean. And the sharks are much bigger.

Celtics Are More Talented Than We Thought

The narrative of the Heat/Celtics series has been that Miami are talented chokers and the Celtics are gritty finishers. I'm not going to argue against that. Miami does have talent. And there's no denying that the Celtics know how to win tough playoff games.

But let's not sell the Celtics short. They have talent. They have some serious talent. How many Hall of Famers are on the Heat? How many are on the Celtics? How many Celtics players have nation-wide name recognition? We thought maybe the Celtics were too old, but they're proving that talent knows no age. At least not before 40.

Let's start with a guy who isn't old: Rajon Rondo. Fast, slick, great vision, decisive with the ball, able to drive to the hoop, and occasionally able to shoot well from the field. Rondo led the NBA with 11.7 assists per game. 1.0 more than Steve Nash, 2.8 more than Chris Paul. You can argue that he had so many assists because he was surrounded by talent. And that only furthers my contention that the Celtics are a very talented team.

The biggest criticism of Rondo is that he's not spectacular every single night. His inconsistency is sometimes baffling. But talented players are sometimes inconsistent. There's no arguing or doubting Rondo's abilities. He's a talented player.

Kevin Garnett might be healthier now than he's been the past three years. And when healthy, he is a game-changer. He looked sluggish at the start of the regular season, but he's quickened every month. His defense is better now, his shooting is better, he's making a difference in the middle of the court. He's averaging 19.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in this postseason. He's shooting 50% from the field. In this series, the Heat have shot 60% when Garnett is on the bench, 40.8% when he's on the floor. KG changes the shape of the game when he's playing. Tell me he's not talented.

Paul Pierce is clutch. And talented. Clutchness might be an intangible, but without talent it's meaningless. Clutchness is an ability to maximize the impact of talent in the most important moments of a game. Pierce also averaged 19.4 points per game in the regular season, not much off his 22.0 career average. And keep in mind that for a good chunk of his career, he was the Celtics ONLY scorer.

With KG, Rondo, and Allen around him, Pierce hasn't had to dominate games for the Celtics to win. But when Pierce was by himself, he was very impressive. That talent hasn't dissipated much. It simply doesn't need to be harnessed every single possession. He's got talent.

This is a talented team. LeBron is a perennial MVP candidate, and Wade is a superstar, but the Celtics have three sure Hall of Famers, and one of the most talented point guards in the league. Pierce and Rondo were both All-Stars in 2012. KG was one in 2011. Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett have combined for 27 All-Star appearances.

This is a talented team that we all dismissed. Remember the trade deadline? There was debate over breaking this team up, selling off the pieces to rebuild for the future. They believed in themselves and their talent. And now they're making believers out of all of us here as well as across the country.

Bard to Minors, What Should the Sox Do With Him?

The Sox sent Daniel Bard to AAA Pawtucket yesterday, activating Darnell McDonald off the DL. In Bard's last start, he only managed to go 1.2 innings, allowing 5 runs off 6 walks and a homerun. In 55 innings, he's walked 37, struck out 34, and has an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.62. As a reliever last year, he had a 3.33 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. He only walked 24 in 73 innings.

It's not working for him as a starter. Everyone knows it. Even him. He wants to work out his problems up here in Boston. The Sox want him to work them out in Pawtucket. Frankly, the Sox can't afford his struggles anymore. It's June, the Sox are one game over .500, they're trying to go on a run to separate themselves from the tightly packed AL East. Now's not the time for Bard to work out his problems in games that count in the standings.

I think the Sox know that the starting experiment is over. They won't come out and say it publicly. But their plan for Bard in Pawtucket involves him throwing some 2 inning stints. Doesn't that sound like they'll be converting him to a reliever?

If they really wanted him to continue to start, they might have sent him down to Fort Myers to pitch some simulated games, to focus entirely on his mechanics and not worry about getting hitters out.

Meanwhile, Bard will likely be replaced in the rotation by Matsuzaka. And if Matsuzaka pitches well, and if Buchholz continues to pitch well, the Sox can tell Bard that there's no more room in the rotation, so he might as well go to the pen. If Matsuzaka falters, or another starter gets hurt, the Sox can continue to tinker with Bard.

The Sox are saying that Bard is dropping his arm slot, and that's affecting his performance. Sounds reasonable. I'm not a pitching coach. All I know is that his fastball is slower, he's not pitching to contact, and he only has 2 of his 3 pitches working on any given night. If he can solve those problems, he can start. But maybe those problems are always going to be unsolvable for Bard. Some pitchers just aren't meant to be starters. The Sox tried to make him one when he was first drafted. It didn't work. Too many walks. It's not working now, either.

The Sox bullpen isn't as good as people think it is. There is room for Bard out there. In 2 weeks, the Sox will have an idea what Matsuzaka can give them. They'll also know which relievers they want to keep and which one they're willing to let go. Bard can work on his mechanics, and maybe he'll figure it all out and return to the rotation in glory. More likely, he'll return to the bullpen where he's thrived in the past.

Bullpen Blows Game Against O's

Lester was good, not great, but good enough. The Sox scored a few runs. But the bullpen blew it. Twice. Atchison laid an egg in the 7th. Then Aceves lost it in the 10th.

The bullpen is one part of this team that I have almost no confidence in. There are some good hitters on this team, and the role players have exceeded expectations. And the starting pitching has potential to improve. But the pen is worrisome. They're just not reliable, not trustworthy.

Alfredo Aceves has been put into a role that he didn't expect to be in. And he hasn't done well. He was a life-saver for the Sox last year. But relievers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Maybe this role is too uncomfortable for Aceves. Maybe he won't be very good in any role. All I know is he has a 5.02 ERA, 3 losses, and 3 blown saves.

The bullpen isn't a complete mess. But they are going to blow games like this, more than just occasionally.

Maybe Daniel Bard will wind up in the bullpen. I think that's the best place for him, and it's the best for the Sox. He can close, Aceves can set-up, and everyone else's workload gets lighter.

On the bright side, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been a more than adequate player. It's nice to once again get offensive production from a catcher. It's sort of a bonus. He's hitting .279 (better than Adrian Gonzalez), he's slugging .593 (.186 more than Gonzalez), he hit his 11th homerun (7 more than Gonzalez), and knocked in his 27th RBI (2 less than Gonzalez). And unlike Gonzalez, he's getting big hits in important situations.

The Sox have lost two straight now, and 3 out of 5, so they can't let this snowball. Beckett is pitching tonight and it's his chance to stop a losing streak before it happens. The offense also has to remember how to get hits with runners in scoring position.

Beckett faces Wei-Yin Chen who is 4-2 with a decent 3.75 ERA. He's been very good this year at giving the Orioles a chance to win in his starts. If Beckett brings his A game, he can outclass Chen, even if Chen does well. If Beckett has his C game, it's all up to the Sox offense. And that bullpen.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Celtics Storm South Beach

Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics were 8-0 in Game 5s when the series had been tied 2-2. They're now 9-0 in such games. They've won in South Beach, and now all the pressure is on LeBron and the Heat. And as we know, LeBron is allergic to pressure.

Outside of Boston and the Celtics' locker room, not many people thought the Celtics could win this game. But they did. Top to bottom, they played better than the Heat. And late in the game, they didn't make mistakes, and the Heat didn't make big plays. The Heat were never able to shake the Celtics in this game and the C's ended up on top.

The Celtics won this game despite a struggling Rajon Rondo. He only scored 7, shot 3 for 15, turned the ball over 5 times. His teammates picked him up. He managed 13 assists. Even though he struggled and he made some unwise fouls, late in the game he didn't screw up. He had a poor game, didn't do much to help the Celtics win, but he didn't let himself cause them to lose.

Garnett was the rock for the Celtics during most of the game. He finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. His 14th double-double of this postseason.

Ray Allen didn't do much from the field, but he sank all 8 of his free throws. Brandon Bass scored 10. Off the bench, Mikael Pietrus was huge. He scored 13. 6 of which came from a pair of big three-pointers in the 4th.

The most clutch performer of the game was Paul Pierce. He's always been recognized as a premier player in the NBA, but now he's being recognized (nationally) as one of the best big moment players in recent memory. He made the shots in the 4th quarter, made the passes, made the smart plays. You rarely see him look out of control or out of his element. He's ice.

And as a sidenote, the refs called a pretty fair game. The Celtics shot more free throws (27 of them, hitting 22), than the Heat, and each team had the same number of personal fouls (21).

The Celtics bring the series back to Boston with a lead. You have to like their chances. Bosh doesn't look healthy. James and Wade had very good games last night, but the Heat still lost. If Rondo shows up, KG gets another double-double, and Pierce is clutch, then it's difficult to imagine this series returning to Florida.

Game 6 Thursday night in Boston.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo