Something’s Brewin’ on Causeway

April 24, 2008

The face of the next-gen Big Bad Bruins.

After the shock of turning the young face of the franchise, Joe Thornton, into three role players, of which only Marco Sturm remains, gloom encompassed Causeway Street for quite some time.  With the recent conclusion of the 2007-2008 season, one that saw Bruins beat writers pen more Trials and Tribulations than Lupe Fiasco, it appears gray skies have lifted with the arrival of Spring.

The team displayed unwavering grit in the face of perhaps more adversity than any other franchise in the NHL this season, and battled the top-seeded Canadiens to the brink in round one.  And there’s more good news to come.

What do Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Petteri Nokelainen, Vladimir Sobotka, Tukkaa Rask, and Mark Stuart all have in common?  Each is 22-years-old or younger.

Throw in Chuck Kobasew (26), Andrew Alberts (26) and Dennis Wideman (25) and you have a starting netminder, three defensemen, and six forwards already contributing for the big club to build a promising team around.

But, it gets better.

Next we have the prime-of-their-lives captaincy troika of Zdeno Chara (31), Marc Savard (30), and Sturm (29).  And legitimate number one netminder Tim Thomas for one more year.

Total it up and you’ve got both goaltending positions filled, four quality defensemen, and eight potential point producing forwards.  The Bruins also have Andrew Ference, Shane Hnidy, Glen Murray, Manny Fernandez, Peter Schaefer, and P.J. Axelsson to use or lose, and with some creative moves from GM Peter Chiarelli the B’s could turn cap space into someone capable of putting them over the top–think Marian Hossa.

There’s plenty still to be done before next year’s roster truly takes shape, but it appears the gray skies we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few season have morphed into a clear, starry night.  With jovial Jumbo Joe gone and militant Cam Neely-wannabe Milian Lucic on the scene, the Big Bad Bruins might just be back.

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Youthful Sox Fun to Watch

April 24, 2008

The ladies like watching young studs like Jacoby Ellsbury too.

Although Tim Wakefield is both a valuable commodity and a respected veteran, I have to admit, I loathe watching his starts. When I go to Sox games, I pray (actually I merely hope whole-heartedly, since I doubt there’s a God out there with the assigned task of monitoring sports fans’ every desire) that I get someone else’s start–watching Wake is almost as bad as watching Daisuke on one of his bad days.

My issue with the Nation’s elder statesman (I don’t support using the term “Nation” but it was such a nice phrase I couldn’t pass it up) is boredom. Honestly, while his knuckleball is probably the single most unique pitch in baseball, it’s not overly interesting. Next time I want to see someone throw low-70s fastballs and most pitches in the 60s I’ll watch a tape of myself.

All this bemoaning another man making a living has a point, one I’m just now getting around to. The Red Sox have become the developmental machine GM Theo Epstein envisioned when he took over the front office a handful of years ago.

Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia have been prominently featured thus far in 2008. That’s a whopping eleven homegrown products, and it doesn’t even factor in Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, both MLB virgins before coming to Titletown, or Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, whom Boston acquired by sending a small squadron of talented youngsters down to Miami during Epstein’s brief hiatus as a gorilla.

Furthmore, several potential impact players bide their time in the minors as you read, such as next year’s likely Tek replacement/new caddy, George Kottaras, a couple more intriguing arms in Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard, and middle of the order bat of the future Lars Anderson. Within a few years the team could boast upwards of 15 or more original Sox on its 25 man roster–quite a change from the group of primarily mercenary mashers/mound-mystifiers of 2004.

Does it really matter who gets the job done so long as it gets done? Not so much, but at least for me, it’ll be a lot more entertaining watching insiders perform their perfuntory physical tasks with electric fastballs and blazing speed over wily old men whose fastballs I could hit.

Viva la juventud!


And the Winner Is…

April 17, 2008

There are four 2008 NBA MVP candidates in most people’s eyes.  I would venture to say there’s a fifth, Amare Stoudamire, but since he’ll get no votes you needn’t worry about his fantastic feats out in Phoenix.

The MVP ballot will be explained ad nauseum until no one cares for longer than anyone wants to hear or read about, so I’m just going to keep it simple.  Here’s my top five, based partially on stats but mostly just on feel since that’s how everyone else does it anyways.

5. Amare Stoudamire–He’s improved his numbers dramatically after moving to the four, which is noteworthy because he was already an incredible player.

4. Kobe Bryant–His ironman act has to count for something, and unlike Amare, he can play defense too.

3. LeBron James–The King is the best talent in basketball, and perhaps sports.  His team is terrible and this hurts him, but otherwise he would be number one.

2. Kevin Garnett–Defensive metrics show he’s off the charts–undeniably the best defensive player in the game–and his season has been about so much more.  Unfortunately, he missed 11 games (well, perhaps fortunately for Celtics fans, since he got some rest) and that’s going to cost him the award.  Had he not been injured I expect he would have finished the season with 80 games played and a couple more minutes per game, and about a 26.50 PER–which coupled with his defense would have made him my top dawg (to steal a line from Chris Talanian).

1. Chris Paul–He wins thanks to pilfering hands, carrying his team like only LeBron can do otherwise, and the second best offensive stats in the game.  Oh, and saving basketball in New Orleans was cool, too bad he doesn’t own the Sonics too.


Beijing: A Green Mess

April 14, 2008

Despite intense protests from civilians around the globe, most politicians and people of $tature (hey, LeBron) have chosen to ignore their eyes and ears (and respiratory systems) and stay quiet about our little problem in the Orient. 

China is killing itself.

This is nothing new, it’s no revelation, and shouldn’t shock.  The level of environmental damage done daily in the world’s longest standing great society is unreal.  Pollution is terrible, and only flipping charts upside down can dispute this.  Still, China remains defiant in the face of facts.  The deputy director of Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau recently informed the New York Times it was no big deal.  “Just tell everybody they don’t have to worry,” were Du Shaozhong’s exact words–everything’s great because we say so.

Well, he’s wrong.  China has long had a corrupt goverment prone to covering its mistakes with deafening silence, apathetic arrogance, and if necessary, more covert tactics. Scientificblogging.com writes “China is, by its reported numbers, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the US. They may be number one because we rely on their statistics…but now scientists are using satellites to try and keep China’s numbers honest.” 

Oh, and a little issue in some square last millenium, a dash of internal conflict, and some unimportant genocide in Africa that no one should waste thought on. 

Just as intelligent folks around the world know there’s a disconnect between most Americans and the policies of President Bush, we must realize a cavern the size of the Grand Canyon exists between what the Chinese people want for themselves–health, happyness, an honorable way to make a living, education, etc.–and what the Chinese government wants for itself

The Beijing Games will showcase China’s problems.  The nation boasts tremendous economic power, but it simultaneously ignores millions of impoverished Chinese.  The same can be said about America, but at least one could say it on record.  Human rights and freedom of speech certainly don’t fall in line with the world’s biggest communist dictator’s modus operandi.

What should the world do?  Boycotts have and will be suggested from all sides, but a full-scale international political effort isn’t going to happen.  Too many rich people have too much on the line to worry about pesky issues such as poverty and pollution.  President Bush has postured about avoiding the opening ceremonies, but really, what will that do other than strain the relationship between the world’s present elite and the NEXT anointed superpower?  Action won’t be taken by those with ultimate power until action is taken by those with collective power. 

We.  The People. 

I’m calling for a boycott of dollars and sense.  Don’t buy your latest team USA jersey, don’t tune in to every moment, don’t read every article posted on the internet about the Games.  This will take attention away from the true purpose of the Games–international competition in a pure form–but this is merely unfortunate, and change requires sacrifice.  Through OUR boycott a message will be sent.  No blood for oil?  How about we stop spending $4.00 at the pump like it’s no big deal.  No air to breathe?  Don’t allow temporary stops in production to fool you.  It’s time to send a message.

Go green or go home.


Celts’ Key to Success: Outscoring Opponents!

April 10, 2008

The key to basketball isn’t preventing this from happening, it’s preventing this from happening to your basket while simultaneously (or directly thereafter) causing this to happen at the opponent’s rim.

People love to flout the “defense wins championships” mantra whenever a team tries to outscore opponents (Phoenix Suns, 2008 New England Patriots, ’80s Edmonton Oilers, New York Yankees perennially) rather than inscore them, but I’m not a believer in such nonsense.  Scoring more points/goals/runs wins games, and it doesn’t matter how you do so.

Which leads me to your 2007-2008 Boston Celtics.  They score plenty (100.5 a game) and give up far less (90.3).  Sounds like a sound strategy.

It is, but unfortunately the media is usually old school and will pound that defense wins championships crap into our heads until the Celtics bow out or banner out, whichever comes first.  So, somewhat regretfully, I’m going to inform you of some pretty impressive defensive numbers this season, ones that show that defense doesn’t just win championships, it also wins games!

Fortunately ESPN.com is letting all its readers, for lack of a better word, read this article, so I’ll link to John Hollinger’s All-Defensive Team.

The amazing thing about Hollinger’s team is quite clear–the Celtics have either an honorable mention or a full-fledged fictional team member at every position.  That’s Rajon Rondo (first team), Tony Allen (honorable mention), Paul Pierce (third team), Kendrick Perkins (honorable mention), and Kevin Garnett (first team and Defensive Player of the Year).  Pretty remarkable.

My conclusions:

Make Tom Thibodeau Associate Head Coach or whatever it takes for him to stay next year, because if he isn’t the number one candidate for almost every opening in the League this summer, there’s something very wrong.  Boston should re-sign Tony Allen.  Oh, and keep scoring a lot too, because even 90 points per game are too many if you only score 89.


Soxy Time

April 10, 2008

Here are my thoughts thus far on the 2008 version of the Boston Pilgrims.

  • The NESN gun doesn’t seem to be as reliable as in the past.  You could usually count on NESN to give more accurate readings than other networks, but this year I’m not sure.  The gun has had Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester regularly at 93-94 over the past two home games–something not impossible, but unlikely based on their recent radar gun readings and velocity last year.  If they are, in fact, hitting the mid-90s with frequency, that’s great news for the Sox.
  • J.D. Drew’s gonna mash.  Don’t be surprised if he posts a .300/.400/.500 season with 30 homers and 120 RBI.
  • The offense and team depth is quite good.  Sean Casey was a nice addition.
  • Tough to see Kyle Snyder go, but it had to happen.  His fastball’s never coming back, and although he has nice movement on his pitches, his control and command simply aren’t good enough to overcome the five or six mph he lost after his 45747th surgery before coming to Boston.  Best of wishes to the guy in the future. 
  • David Aardsma would seem to be the logical next fall guy once Timlin comes back.
  • Daisuke has been a revelation since the first couple innings in Japan.  Those two innings were the Daisuke of last year that we hated; since then he’s been the guy we envisioned.  If he tries to throw strikes rather than the perfect pitch every time and primarily pitches backwards (which means breaking balls early in the count, fastballs to finish hitters off) he’s going to be a much better pitcher.  He has the potential to post a 3.00 or so ERA and a K per frame in 230-240 innings.
  • Beckett will be fine once he builds up his stamina.
  • Okaji seems to still be doin’ his thang.  I think a reasonable season from him will be a 3.00 ERA or so, but he could surprise me and keep it down in the low-2.00s.
  • Clay Buchholz is the real deal.  He’s got phenomenal stuff.  Tim McCarver would probably say “When he has his command he’s got no-hit stuff.”  And Joe Buck’s papichulo would be right, for once.  Buchholz has four quality pitches, and his fastball is actually the worst of them.  If he learns to command the fastball with age he’ll become a bonafied ace–assuming health and all that jazz that suggests there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.
  • Hopefully the Sox can get another win against Detroit before the rainy season starts and perhaps cancels the entire Yankee series.

Role Reversal Won’t Change the Outcome for Bruins

April 10, 2008

In 2004 the top-seeded Bruins fell to the barely-there Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Saku Koivu came back from cancer just in time to spear Boston’s title hopes and lift the entire city of Montreal on his broad back.  Four years later, the roles have been reversed.

Patrice Bergeron = Saku Koivu.

The Bruins = 2004 Canadiens, The Canadiens = 2004 Bruins.

Claude Julien is on the other side.

It’s all eerily similar, except this time the favorite wins.  In 5 or 6 games.