After sitting on my ass for 12 hours straight all in the name of sports, I thought why not just write about it in an excessively long post that you’ll get tired of half way through since I don’t have an editor.
1. Rangers 3- Capitals 2 The Rangers played the way you HAVE to after losing the way they did in Game 1- Nobody knew how the Rangers would respond after losing in the most insanely horrible gut punch way possible. But if there was any sign that this team has a strong chance of winning the Stanley Cup its how they responded in Game 2. They came out strong, and played physically after the tone was set by the Capitals in Game 1. To be clear the Rangers are the better team but its easy to see how the Capitals could have taken charge of this series. These two teams have faced each other in four of the last five years so there’s an added layer of intrigue to this series that makes these two teams a bit more even than their records may suggest. But the Rangers attacked the net and were the more physical team and played with the kind of intense desperation you have to play in order to reassert themselves in this series. The Capitals played the aggressor in Game 1 and stole a game with some luck which is maybe not how they drew it up exactly but the result was. The Rangers responded in kind; the way they had to. On to game 3 where the Rangers almost HAVE to win.
2. Ovechkin is the best player in the series and the only hope the Caps have- Familiarity was also what would’ve potentially made a series with the Islanders entertaining but the Islanders had nobody on the same level of Alex Ovechkin, the superstar forward of the Capitals. Since 2006, only three players have won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for lead goal scorer and only one (Steven Stamkos) has won it more than once. Ovechkin has won it five times and three years in a row and counting. Given his prowess for scoring yesterday’s goal shouldn’t have come as no surprise but it showed Ovechkin’s killer drive to score. That kind of goal, incredibly athletic, showed a skill set that few in the world have and that has to scare the bejeezus out of the Rangers. But the best team wins these playoff series. Beware the star- they can always steal a game for their team and if this is the kind of effort the Caps will consistently get, the Caps can steal more than just a game.
3. Yankees 4- Red Sox 3 The Yankees keep winning- Prior to the season I said the Yankees would win more games than the Mets. Why? That bullpen is looking mighty similar to the one that took the Royals all the way to the World Series last year. The bullpen has been flat out unhittable. Many wondered about the year after affect of Dellin Betances’ workload after jumping from 5 innings to 90 in 2014 and his workload stands to jump even more this year if the Yankees plan on being competitive throughout the year. Betances was thought to be the natural heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. His stats last season bearing eerie similarity to Rivera’s eye opening 96 season which established his place in history. Then they paid big bucks for Andrew Miller as a lefty specialist or so we thought but Brian Cashman being the smart GM he is and Joe Girardi being the smart manager he is, knew that on a team with so many questions there was no need to lock people into roles and thus Andrew Miller started the year as the Yankee closer. This was the same team that earlier had moved Phil Hughes from starter to reliever to starter again doing the same to Joba Chamberlain famously ruining the two players development though one can make the case that Hughes has found his way as a starter last year and this year for the Twins and Chamberlain didn’t really have success except as a reliever and well there’s gnat much left to to say about him as a reliever. But the Yankees wisely defined a role for Betances and realized early on that he could be the dominant relief guy that Rivera was and even if they didn’t have a dominant pitching staff, they could effectively shorten games much the way those 96 teams made every contest virtually a 6 inning game.
But they’re a team winning close games and while a 5-4 record in one run games doesn’t necessarily speak to that, all those losses are more a reality shaped by their lack of offense. In games decided by 3 runs or fewer? They are 11-6 which means when the Yankees get a lead? They keep it. Consider that taking out the 13 inning game against the Rays, the bullpen has blown one game. Obviously over a 162 game season they will blow a game or two more but nothing indicates that this is a team with a bullpen that will ultimately get worse. Miller and Betances have the collective chops to be dominant forces out of the bullpen its the rest of the cast that will ultimately decide how much rest Girardi and co will have. Out of their 24 games, 17 have been 3 runs or fewer which means that a team with a collective BA of .242 (18th in MLB) will need to rely on excellent pitching to win games. Their starters have been pitching a lot better than most thought. Of course, like the Mets, we can’t react to one month of baseball played. Brian Cashman isn’t afraid of pulling the trigger on any deal he has to make to correct any errors but he seems to have a long term vision for the Yankees. He refuses to include Luis Severino in any deal and has maintained a pretty healthy set of positional prospects and has even resisted the urge to check in on Cole Hamels. While the Yankees will ride this wave of good starting pitching and excellent relief, they have wisely chosen not to write off their future to upkeep what they admit is a flawed roster. A responsible Yankee organization isn’t something to be surprised about, its something to fear.
4. A-Rod’s return to…- Jon Heyman wrote in fantastic detail about all the different angles in this A-Rod/Yankees contractual dispute which is turning personal. The Yankees don’t like A-Rod. The Players Union is in a terrible position here having been sued by A-Rod’s representation. A-Rod’s list of friends in baseball has dwindled to a select few that may or may not be in his own locker room and that’s all A-Rod’s fault. But the emotion he showed after hitting home run number 660 which tied Willie Mays was likely the result of a number of things. His own guilt. His actions that resulted in a number of fractured relationships. His selfish decisions to destroy what would have likely been a first ballot Hall of Fame career. Not saying that MLB isn’t guilty of their role. They let performance enhancing drugs become an epidemic and then allowed the same players they lifted be vilified. But A-Rod’s season, beginning with the surprising standing ovation by a Yankee fan base unsure about how to feel regarding A-Rod, has been the story of this season more so than their surprising start. A-Rod looks healthy and the Yankees are wisely using him and not overextending him given his age and the health of his hips. Whether he continues is the question but only time can tell that but I’m happy for A-Rod. Those tears were probably the most genuine moment we’ve seen from him in a long time.
5. American Pharaoh wins the Kentucky Derby- Sure. Whatever. I know nothing about horse racing and won’t pretend to analyze it, but I have to admit they aren’t kidding- it is a fantastic 2 minutes. Plus, it gave us this photo.
6. Clippers 111- Spurs 109- I know a team HAD to win. But why? Seriously why? There will be plenty of fallout from this series including what happens to the Spurs now? Everybody will have an opinion and everybody has been writing them off for four off seasons and counting because well, it has to end at some point. But the thing about the Spurs have always been their ability to adapt, and move on. That’s because their infrastructure is so good. Bill Simmons loves to talk the infrastructure but he’s right- Peter Holt the owner, R.C. Buford the VP, and Greg Popovich the head coach are always in lockstep over how to run the franchise and keep it moving forward. There’s rumblings that they could make a run at LaMarcus Aldridge if he chose to look outside of Portland and there’s enough smoke for it to be burning on the minds of Blazer fans. But that would effectively mean the roster from Danny Green to Manu Ginobli could look different given the price tag of locking up Kawhi Leonard to an offer sheet and then freeing up enough money to make a legitimate run at LaMarcus who i don’t think will come cheap. The Spurs offseason will likely be the most watched. Of course the last time the Spurs lost a heart wrenching elimination game on a last second shot and kept the team together they…well yeah.
7. Clutch Paul and what’s next? Before the game, Twitter exploded into a conversation about Chris Paul’s legacy if he were to lose this game. How much blame did he deserve for his playoff resume? How much was the team’s? Well lucky for him, he won the game and can table the conversation for a later time because those conversations don’t die out until you win a title. But I think the Clippers figured something out this series that the best teams do: trust the team for quarters 1-3 and then trust the talent to lead you to the win. There was a recurring theme in games 6 and 7 that should frighten the Clips opponents moving forward. The Clippers will rely on their two stars to take them home as they should. There are few stars left in the playoffs as athletic as Blake Griffin (I count Lebron right now), and few as hyper competitive and driven to be great as CP3. Many have pointed at roster construction as the reason why Paul’s teams have never achieved anything of note. But the great ones, if they are truly great, can will their team further and that’s exactly what Paul has done. Paul has a stellar reputation in the league (except with the refs) and I was happy to see him come through in a game that you just almost expected the Clippers to wilt given the Spurs chops in those minutes. Paul moves on and who knows how deep this team can go?
Another thing to consider is where this series ranks in the annals of playoff history. As it stands, this is the best first round series in the last 20 years. Three games decided by four points or less and an epic game 7 that will rank up there after the experts have a chance to catch their breath, do their research and weigh in. All I know is neither team deserved to lose and if anything this strengthens the growing outcry for reformatting the playoff structure. You can listen to Greg Popovich or NBA smartypants Zack Lowe of Grantland or Tom Ziller of SBNation. Just know that this topic is heavy on Commissioner Silver’s mind. Change may not have come soon enough for NBA fans to have endured the Nets and Celtics in the playoffs while the Thunder sat home, but just know that change is coming.
8. Tim Duncan the great hero we didn’t deserve- Just a reminder that he’s 39 years old. Hearing General Popovich sorry, coach Popovich speak , it was as a man who has no idea how long Duncan’s health will allow him to continue his amazing career. Five titles in, and unequivocally the greatest power forward. EVER. How then can I wager on what happens next for this great player? We can debate his place on all time lists, but he is singularly the greatest reason why this team has won as many titles as they have and removing him from the Spurs every day line up would create a void as large as any in a line up since Jordan left the Bulls. Duncan’s selfless play both on the court and in salary negotiations allows the Spurs the freedom to do the things they do. They can keep a better core together when their superstar forward who can command twice what he makes takes less than market value. When you see a star take a pay cut to allow role players to get a bigger paycheck, it sends a message to prospective players that this guy cares about winning. He doesn’t just talk about winning, he backs it up financially. Those guys are becoming more and more rare. If last night was indeed the last time we saw Tim Duncan play a game, much like every other game he ever played, he left it all out on the court.
8. Nationals 1 Mets 0- As I’m writing this, the Mets have just wrapped up another 1-0 loss but what I have to say can be encapsulated pretty easily: do not panic. What I saw from the Mets during their 11 game winning streak and what they have showed with their pitching thus far gives me hope moving forward as they get healthier. The Mets have now lost 7 of their last 10 with this loss and at 16-10 have a 3 game lead over the Braves and Marlins. The Nationals are seemingly getting their act together and the Marlins pitching is suddenly rounding into form and that’s before their two best pitchers have even thrown a single pitch this year. The Braves are doing what they are doing through smoke and mirrors and I expect them to fall into the middle of the pack. What the Mets don’t have is two of their best positional players in David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud. Lucas Duda is beginning to cool down after his strong start but I think he’s going to be good enough moving forward that a .280 and 30-35 HR’s and near 100 RBI’s are a legit asks from the hulking 1b. His defense has also been plus having lost a few pounds which is noticeable on how quickly he’s getting to some balls. Plus all the coaches say that Duda is a tireless worker and does not take a play off.
Then there’s Juan Lagares who’s hitting above .300 and delivering highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch. The Mets believe he can make leaps and bounds in his offensive game and he seems to be making the kind of adjustments good hitters make. Since April 25th, Lagares has 14 hits in 33 plate appearances (.424). Many wonder why he wasn’t the Opening day lead off man and all you need to see is the bases in balls part of the stat sheet. He has three so far and teams know that guys who don’t know how to draw walks will cool down and keep chasing bad pitches which is why you’re not seeing teams give him an intentional pass. Once Juan becomes more selective with his pitch and turns on baseballs, he has gap to gap power that will only improve. He’s got the power to hit 20 HR’s but his approach right now just needs to be ironed out before the team asks him to tap into that power. His development, which the Mets believe will continue, is huge once you add a David Wright and a Travis D’Arnaud into that line up. Suddenly there are two less holes in that line up to pitch around. The Mets know that which is why Sandy Alderson hasn’t rushed to judgement and knows he just has to weather this current storm.
Terry Collins and his curious decisions (leaves Harvey in 100 pitches plus against Yankees with a 6 run lead while removing him in a 1-0 game after 80+ pitches) are what make you nervous as a fan but the players clearly love playing for him and that’s all I care for. Once players tune you out, you can’t come back from that. To my fellow Met fans I would say: be patient. Ride the waves. This season will be fun and the Mets will be in it in September. Just a hunch from a faithful.
9. Pretty boy Floyd def Manny Pac-Man Pacquiao via decision.- The fight of the century didn’t quite live up to the hype but my gripe was with the people who had hoped this fight would be anything but what wound up happening. Fact is, this fight should’ve happened 6-7 years ago. At the end of the day, Floyd is a businessman and played the market just right and squeezed every possible dollar he could from this fight because as he already admitted he has one fight left. Fact is, this fight may have been more of a contest a few years ago but not now. Floyd is a grand master of boxing and he fought his game plan to perfection. His quickness and ability to defend has been his calling card. He’s not going to knock too many people out but he’s going to be able to jab, overhand right and then bob and weave all the way to a decision in his favor. He knows the sport and how its scored. He is content, even if a majority of the public voiced their disgust over how bad the sport has become because they saw a “boring” match, because he knows what boxing is.
Much of the build up of this fight was interesting in that they played up aspects of both fighters that they generally don’t want publicized. Pac-Man’s religion and faith was played up and Floyd’s history of domestic violence was a hot topic which was in an effort to build up this good vs evil storyline. And make no mistake: Floyd’s team was more than happy to reap the benefits. It likely built up more furor for the fight. Fans of PacMan said if you’re a Floyd fan you’re a fan of domestic violence and condoning his actions against women while Floyd’s fans claimed that PacMan’s unwillingness to agree to drug testing all these years was what held up the fight and PacMan had cheated his way to prominence. Either way, it was the kind of storyline build up that would’ve made Vince McMahon blush.
Say what you will, but last night’s boxing match may not have been the most enjoyable to watch but both men were tense, neither wanting to walk into a knockout punch by the other. Both self aware of what was at stake. Floyd was risking his undefeated record and status as the best fighter of his generation during this fight and PacMan was viewed as the only worthy competitor. While Floyd hasn’t finalized plans, he has said that he has one last fight in September and after that he will retire leaving the sport with a huge void. No matter what you say, Floyd was the main attraction. He was the star. PacMan can’t exist in a vacuum without Floyd. Is Aamir Khan the next opponent? Khan certainly seems to think so and whether that is the final fight remains to be seen, but you almost get the sense that even in victory, Floyd didn’t accomplish what he wanted. Had Floyd knocked out Pacquiao there would be no doubt who was the very best. But another decision leaves the fans wondering what if this fight had happened sooner? There’s a sense that this fight left many wanting more and that feeling won’t shake easy. No one will be interested in going down the Pacquiao/Floyd rematch road considering the underwhelming reaction from the nation. For one night boxing returned to its perch as the biggest draw and failed to deliver as it has since the heyday of Mike Tyson pre-rape conviction.
Now with Floyd retiring, who can boxing turn to? MMA (UFC etc.) is really taking a hold on the nation’s collective thoughts and has enough compelling characters and idiotic champions to make sports fans entertained. Fact is, the sport needs someone else. Until they find him, all they will remember from boxing is this last match that was an event and I fear that boxing may have died a death via Mayweather decision.