June 30, 2011

So long, Stinktown.

I came to Boston in September of 2004. It was arguably the most exciting time of my young life; I couldn't wait to start exploring this new city. But then the fucking Red Sox won the World Series and everyone became insufferable. Such is life.

Life in Beantown has been...interesting. I'd wholeheartedly recommend Boston University to people with hundreds of thousands of dollars to burn, but probably not to anyone else. Let's just say that Vincent Thomas Cimino and his little brother Rudiger won't be going to BU like their pop. Could I have gotten an equally excellent education -- and had as much fun -- for much, much cheaper at a school like Saint Joseph's? Probably, but don't tell Tom Cimino that. He'll start asking for his money back.

In the end, however, Boston has been a pretty darn good place to live. I've made a boatload of wonderful friends -- including phenoms like Ryan Caswell and Conor O'Shea -- and I've eaten a lot of chowder in big, delicious bread bowls. There's nothing like a small-ish city that's easy to navigate but still offers all the amenities of a major metropolis; I have a feeling I won't be walking home to Bethesda from any DC bars at 2 AM.

I'll miss the burritos at Boca Grande, the fancy beers at the Publick House and Deep Ellum, the crappiness of the White Horse Tavern, the beauty of 125 Saint Paul Street, the elegant Liev Schreiber canvas that now belongs to Jon Cifuentes, the near-perfect movie house that is the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the hellhole that we called home at 79 Brighton Avenue.

I don't know what I'll do without Saturday nights playing caps at Ryan Moore and Jon Hammer's apartment in the South End. I loved sleeping on the downstairs couch at 38 Cherry Street. Catherine Todd's house in Cape Cod was the backdrop for some of my favorite Boston-oriented memories; I'm excited to make the trip back up hopefully every summer until we all die. And, of course, TechTarget was a great place to be employed...if you're a guy that loves to wear shorts into the office and work from home twice a week. Which I very much am.

But it's time to move on. Clarence Clemons is dead and my heart is in pieces; there's no better time to pick up my life and start anew elsewhere. Rather than deal with fair-weather Bruins fans, I'm excited to battle off fair-weather Capitals fans. Basketball is irrelevant in DC, which is music to my ears. And the Redskins are perpetually shitty, so I won't have to worry about seeing another Super Bowl parade in a city other than my own.

Of course, kingmyno.com isn't going anywhere. And my Red Sox correspondent Dave Goldstein will continue to provide all the Boston baseball info that none of you clamor for.

But to everyone in Boston, so long and thanks for all the fish. And if you're ever in the DC area, hesitate to call.

June 23, 2011

In praise of the craziest day in Philadelphia Flyers history.

At one point in late February, the Philadelphia Flyers -- then widely regarded as the best team in hockey -- were 40-15-6.

But on May 6, in the midst of a painful collapse, they were swept in embarrassing fashion by the future Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

And today, on June 23, the hammer finally fell. Paul Holmgren traded captain Mike Richards and assistant captain Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings and the Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.

My initial reaction, which I imagine most Flyers fans shared, was one of shock. The faces of the franchise! The gritty, two-way center and the pretty-boy goal scorer, moved out of town on the same day! A team that was two years removed from the Stanley Cup Finals and six months removed from dominating the NHL had just gutted its core in the matter of one hour. That's absolute insanity.

But as I settled down, and as the players involved were announced, I grew to love it. When a professional sports team falls apart, it's easy to fire the coach or set some fringe contributors free. The simplest solution for Flyers management would have been to trade Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn, open up some cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov and take one more crack at the Cup with essentially the exact same roster. And hey, if that doesn't work, you can always blame Peter Laviolette.

But Paul Holmgren obviously had no intention of heading down that path. We'll probably find out over the next week or so if the team got tired of the two young players and their partying ways, if Richards really was becoming a problem in the locker room, if they felt the need to move them before any no-trade clauses kicked in or if this was a pure hockey decision. Probably all of the above.

Either way, this is one of the strangest days in Philadelphia sports history. But give Holmgren credit; he didn't blame the system. He didn't throw the coach under the bus. He didn't make injury-related excuses or explain that the Flyers just ran into the Bruins at the wrong time. He kicked two of his best, most prominent players out the door and slammed it shut behind them. That takes balls, and balls are something that Holmgren has never lacked.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Mike Richards. I've got his jersey hanging in my closet, and I'll really miss goals like these. And I don't know much about the players that are coming to Philadelphia -- Jakub Voracek, Brandon Schenn and Wayne Simmonds -- other than that they're young, cheap and apparently very good at hockey.

But I can see why Holmgren and the Flyers felt this was necessary. If he really believed that these guys didn't have what it takes to bring home a championship, if they weren't going to mature into the men he thought they'd become, or if they just weren't willing to put in the time and the effort that Laviolette's system demands, then kudos to the team for getting out from under some lengthy contracts and bringing home some skill in return. As the 76ers have proven recently, there's nothing worse than being buried under big deals for expensive players that just aren't good enough to win it all.

And Claude Giroux's still in town. So is James van Riemsdyk; so is Danny Briere. Chris Pronger will get the C -- and hopefully he'll be out there on the ice to show it off -- and we can all cross our fingers that Kimmo Timonen has a little more left in the tank. Plus, a major, major influx of young talent is on the way. They might not contend for a Cup next season, but there will still a boatload of skill on the ice in Philadelphia. And they've all been served a notice: no one is safe.

Of course, as I was writing this post, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract. You know what? Good for them. That's a reasonable cap hit, and now they've got the goalie position locked down for a long, long time. He seems like a very entertaining personality that we'll all really enjoy, and there's no doubt that he's a talented netminder. They'll regret the contract in the end, but I think everyone was beyond tired of the goalie carousel. It's officially come to a halt.

Today's been about making a statement. Two young guns, brimming with talent, were sent packing. A slightly psychotic Russian goalie was inked to a massive deal. But let's roll with this unique brand of "balls to the wall" hysteria; it's certainly unexpected in the buttoned-down, "afraid to mess up" sports world we live in.

For a long time, the Flyers operated like every year was 1975 all over again. Today, though, they went as far outside the box as any team in recent memory. When you've gone 30+ years without a Cup, maybe going a little crazy isn't the worst idea in the world.

Aches, pains and a trip through the Senior Circuit.

Beware of injuries, the smothering murderer of countless potential playoff teams.

"60-day disabled list" is among the phrases most feared by fans and players, along with "tested positive for..." and "possible players strike." It's also among phrases most feared by owners and GMs, along with "$500 million lawsuit" and "represented by Scott Boras."

The Red Sox (also known as "the team with a winning percentage over .600") have been hit with a rash of dings and dents over the past couple weeks. Bobby Jenks has just begun throwing again, Jed Lowrie is off to seek a second opinion on his shoulder, Carl Crawford pulled a hamstring, and the back strain that Clay Buchholz has been fighting off for several starts has finally forced him to sit out.

That's a lot of talent eating Funyuns in the clubhouse, but it's not yet a serious problem. All those players are on the 15-day DL, and none are expected to be out all that long. Some need to rest a body part and others need rehab, but they all may be seeing action again by the first week of July.

And it helps that the Red Sox are playing gifted baseball right now. The lineup, in particular, has brought out a sense of confidence that's helped turn the Sox into a machine. Consider than, in the last 30 games, Boston has scored at least 14 runs six times. The 1-through-5 hitters have done most of that damage, and none of them have lost playing time to injuries, despite being constantly battered (see: Kevin Youkilis.)

Combined with pretty solid starting pitching and an encouraging debut from Andrew Miller, that's a recipe for taking two out of three.

If Miller's name rings a bell, it's because he is a former number one pick who was compared to Randy Johnson. Athletically, not in attractiveness. He was rushed up by the Detroit Tigers and pitched like crap, then he was traded to the Florida Marlins, rushed by them and pitched like crap once again. Finally, they traded him to the Red Sox, who finally slowly coached him with care and got some early signs of rebirth for their troubles.

The Red Sox are about to begin a nine-game road trip, which would sound daunting if two of the opponents weren't the Pirates and the Astros. Not exactly a death march.

Speaking of interleague play, it's time for another installment of "good idea, bad idea."

Good idea: Trying to get both Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz in the lineup for at least a few of the nine upcoming away games.
Bad idea: Moving a Gold Glove first baseman into right field and putting a designated hitter at first base for at least several of the nine upcoming away games.

Yes, they're actually talking about doing this. Normally a DH like Ortiz would be used only as a pinch-hitter in the late innings in a National League park. But Ortiz is having an All-Star season; his bat has become one of the most indispensable in the lineup. Sitting him could inadvertently cool him down, and that just wont do.

Ortiz is actually not as terrible with the glove as one might think. He is usually sound and has even been known to make a fine play here and there. In contrast, Jason Giambi was a first basemen who should have been a DH; defensively, he was just a notch below Stevie Wonder.

But what to do with Gonzo? The guy leads the AL in hits, batting average and RBIs; he's the early MVP favorite. Putting a former outfielder at first is one thing, but Gonzo in the outfield? He has very sure hands but almost no career experience in the outfield.

Even worse is his ability to cover ground, as Gonzo is one of the slowest runners in the game. Even when trucking at full steam, he appears to be practically going backwards. PNC Park, Citizens Bank Park and Minute Maid Park all have modestly sized right fields, but it isn't hard to envision a ball that JD Drew would've tracked down landing out of Gonzo's reach for a double or worse.

And what if he got hurt? It's unlikely -- and Francona probably would order Gonzalez to play it safe -- but it is still possible. The Sox can tolerate the injuries they have now, but losing their MVP would be a serious blow, not to mention an embarrassment.

Despite my trepidation, it is likely a necessary risk. You just can't sit Ortiz for nine games without throwing off his groove. Gonzalez will play right field a few times, even if Terry and I are holding our breath with every fly ball.

But if that's the biggest problem the Red Sox have now, then they can count the,selves fortunate.

June 21, 2011

Rest in peace, Clarence Clemons.

My mother once danced with Bruce Springsteen.

The location? A fraternity at Lafayette College. My mom was a student, and the E Street Band had just finished up a show when the brothers invited them back to the house to drink and carouse. Being as they weren't yet revered millionaire musicians, just a young bar band from New Jersey, they were happy to accept.

To the best of her recollection, it was after The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. She insists that Steven van Zandt was in attendance, but he didn't join officially until Born to Run and I'm not sure that Bruce was still playing colleges in 1975.

Either way, the story goes that Bruce, possibly altered by one substance or another, came over to chat with her. He asked her to dance, and they grooved to some 70s tune. Afterwards, instead of going on to father me (like he should have), he walked away, never to be heard from again.

Cool story, right? "Bruce fan's mother dances with The Boss." But probably not enough for a full blog post.

The reason I'm writing about it is because I found out last night that Clarence Clemons was also there that night. While my mom and Bruce danced, Clarence stood next to them, definitely stoned out of his mind, playing air saxophone along with the music. She says it was a ballad, not exactly something that you can air sax to, but Clarence didn't seem to mind. Everyone apparently loved him; as anyone that has read Big Man can attest to, it sounds like Clarence Clemons was always the life of the party.

And now he's gone. I was in shock after hearing the news late Saturday night on Twitter; I knew Clarence was struggling post-stroke, but I didn't expect him to be gone so soon. I instantly fired off texts to my Bruce-loving friends, all of whom presumably felt their hearts immediately shatter.

One of them fell asleep with "Jungleland" on repeat; the other one cried while listening to "Backstreets" in the car with a female Bruce fiend. And myself? I was enjoying a beach weekend with some college chums; they put on "Thunder Road" and demanded that I sing along. I might have the worst voice in the world, but I belted out that song like my life depended on it. I had to express myself somehow; a celebrity death hasn't affected me this much since Phil Hartman died in 1998.

Every Bruce fan felt a connection to Clarence Clemons. If you saw him on the street, he'd probably be just another giant black dude that you'd never dream of messing with. But up on that stage with Bruce and the band, belting out his passionate solos, it was instantly clear that we were all in this together.

For whatever reason, Clarence Clemons wanted to play rock music. In a band full of white people. To an audience full of white people. For almost 40 years. And for that, he's a hero to countless Caucasians with beer bellies and bald heads. Thousands of guys and girls that never associate with black people probably wept like babies on Saturday night when they found out that maybe the most famous rock saxophonist of all time had passed away.

Clarence Clemons transcended race, blah blah, all that good stuff. But what he really did was make people happy. Sometimes Bruce's lyrics are meant to make you think; behind a catchy melody or chorus, there's a message that isn't always instantly apparent. But when the Big Man stepped up to the microphone, you knew what was coming. In the case of "Jungleland," it lifted you up. In "Badlands," it made you rock even harder. And in "Born to Run," it was a sign that the end was near, that you better get on your feet because the band was about to blow the roof off the joint.

It was never ambiguous what Clarence Clemons was about to do with that saxophone of his, and it was never a question as to how his fans would respond. Every time, we were in the palm of his hand; he knew it, and we knew it, and both sides ate it up. He was born to lead, and we were all born to follow.

In "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the "story" of when Clarence Clemons joined the E Street Band, Bruce laments how alone he is, how he can't go on...until the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. Maybe the most depressing thought is that Bruce will once again be alone, unspeakably alone, without the Big Man. We're all sad to have lost a musical and cultural legend that we loved to hear play; he's losing his best friend and his staunchest musical ally.

I think the E Street Band is all but kaput, and maybe it should be. I don't know if I'd accept anyone by Bruce Springsteen's side that wasn't Clarence Clemons. If I've seen the band for the last time, so be it. Their music, in countless forms, will last forever, and so will Clarence's influence on the world.

I imagine Clarence Clemons lived more in his 69 years than most people would do in a thousand. Although the amount he consumed in that time sounds nothing short of legendary, he seems like the rare individual who left behind a hell of a lot more than he took.

June 13, 2011

Why aren't Steve Buscemi and HBO a perfect fit?

It was going to be the greatest season of television ever.

Forget about Richie Aprile. Step aside, Ralphie Cifaretto. Steve Buscemi was joining the cast of The Sopranos as Tony Blundetto, Tony Soprano's cousin, and he was primed to become the most revered guest star in the show's storied history.

Only he wasn't. And when compared to the first four seasons, which were maybe the best in all of televised drama, Season 5 of The Sopranos comes up more than a little short.

It's not all Buscemi's fault; perhaps the show was destined to decline anyway. Or maybe David Chase was in the process of segueing from "intrigue and action" to "dream sequences where Tony is a traveling salesman," and Buscemi got caught up in the crossfire. But his understated performance as a tortured ex-mobster was nowhere near as memorable, or as well-performed, as Joe Pantoliano's Ralphie or David Proval's Richie.

To me, at least, it felt like a wasted opportunity.

And then there was Boardwalk Empire. Created by Sopranos writer/producer Terence Winter, the show was supposed to be HBO's next big mob-oriented gem. The pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese. Accomplished actors like Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg were cast in supporting roles. And there was Buscemi, at the center of the stage, as criminal kingpin "Nucky" Thompson.

Boardwalk Empire was indeed a hit, racking up awards and breaking ratings records in its Scorsese-helmed debut. But, despite a Golden Globe win (which barely means anything anyway), how much of that was thanks to Buscemi? His casting seemed to be a calculated step away from the "big burly boss" type that was perfected by James Gandolfini, but Buscemi's straight-laced roles have always been more "quirky everyman" than "cunning evil mobster." Nucky is supposed to outsmart his opponents, but I never really bought that he was so very clever or crafty. He just seemed like a guy in the right place at the right time.

I'd rather have seen a creepy Buscemi, or a sinister Buscemi, someone with hate in his heart and an axe to grind. Instead, we got a glorified straight man who's been thoroughly outclassed by his fellow actors, including Shannon's unhinged Agent Nelson Van Alden and, by leaps and bounds, Michael Pitt's calculated young cohort Jimmy Darmody.

It didn't help matters that Boardwalk Empire hasn't been a particularly understated program thus far; when a character purchases a dress with "blood money," you can practically guarantee that the episode will end with actual blood being spilled all over it. It's been more than a little on the nose, and I think its unquestionably brought the show down.

In a way, Game of Thrones has been what I wanted Boardwalk Empire to be: a complicated, dense show that becomes required viewing. You feel for the characters on Game of Thrones; they make you want to watch. With Boardwalk Empire, sometimes it felt like I was watching out of obligation. It had been billed as "important television," so it was important television. But when all was said and done, I found that I didn't particularly give a crap. It definitely did not live up to the standards set by Sopranos and Deadwood, that's for sure.

Again, this isn't all Steve Buscemi's fault. He's is a terrific actor who has lent his talents to such varied and acclaimed movies as Fargo, Big Fish, Ghost World, Armageddon, The Big Lebowski and Airheads. You could make that the case that he's one of the most intriguing, or at least accomplished, modern character actors out there.

But when handed the ball, when it seems like he's finally found a meaty television role that will show off his range, it falls flat. Maybe HBO just doesn't know how to use him. Or maybe he's purposely trying to avoid the slimy, squirrely roles that made him famous, like the one he played in Fargo. Either way, I'm no longer all that excited for Buscemi on TV.

June 11, 2011

I love Desmond Jennings.

I can't stop thinking about Desmond Jennings.

Besides his slash line, I don't know a single thing about him. I probably couldn't pick him out of a small crowd.

Yet there he sits, on my fantasy baseball team's bench, tempting me with every glance at my roster. I've seen the stats, and I've heard about the potential. He's even been compared to Andrew McCutchen, which is the ultimate way to get my heart fluttering.

I love him. And I want him. And the Tampa Bay Rays couldn't care less.

They refuse to call Jennings up to the majors. It doesn't matter that he's hitting .436 in the month of June, or that he's stolen 12 bases in 59 games at Triple A, or that the guy he'd replace, Sam Fuld, is stinking up the joint (.228/.279/.345).

It's because the Rays are cheap. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the team couldn't survive without being frugal. It even pays off in other ways; they earned 11 of the first 74 picks in this year's draft, mostly by letting a bunch of free agents sign elsewhere.

But to me, Mr. Fantasy Baseball Player, that's not a good enough excuse. I want to drink Desmond Jennings' bathwater, and Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman won't let me. Sometimes, it feels personal.

But that's the fun of a keeper league; you become heavily invested in certain guys. I traded Colby Rasmus last week, and while I liked the move, it's tough to let a young stud like that slip away. If Rasmus develops into a top-20 hitter, I'll never forgive myself.

Meanwhile, I feel like a genius for acquiring Jay Bruce right before he went on his amazing tear in May. I'm literally salivating at the idea of the 24-year-old Bruce socking dingers on my team for years to come. There's nothing more satisfying than being the shrewd manager who snags the star right before a breakout season.

Yes, I am very cognizant of the fact that I care way too much about all this. And it's even weirder now that I'm older than a lot of them. Few things are this engaging, though; I really enjoy forming a strange, one-sided, game-oriented bond with a bunch of random millionaire athletes. It works for me.

So, Mr. Jennings, keep mashing down in Durham. Soon, we will be together forever.

June 9, 2011

Asgard and Texas: Not that far apart.

I saw Thor on Tuesday night.

I saw The Tree of Life on Wednesday night.

Surprisingly, they're a lot more similar than you'd think. And it's not because they both feature CGI creatures.

I know that Thor is Kenneth Branagh's quick dip into summer blockbusters, and Tree of Life is Terrence Malick's latest flora-adoring, imagery-heavy opus. Doesn't seem to be a lot of room for comparison. But there were more than a few moments in Tree of Life, usually when my mouth wasn't agape in amazement, where I thought, "Hmmm, this is rather Thor-ish, isn't it?"

That's because Tree of Life doesn't aim to make very much sense. I mean, there's a "story," but it's not told in the linear style that most filmmakers use (and most moviegoers expect). It bounces through time and explains itself mostly without words; viewers have to pick up what they can and make suppositions along the way. It's an extreme example of something more movies should strive for: showing and not telling.

But it also means that, half the time, you have no idea what's going on. Why did the little kid put the blouse in the river? Who's the person that just died? Why are we watching the creation of Earth? And, most importantly, it doesn't lend much to character development. Everyone's motivations, besides basic human desires, are either unknown or nonexistent.

And Thor, well, it's a comic-book movie. And it's one set in the Avengers universe, which means its a rush-job that's designed to serve two purposes: make money and move the larger story along.

So naturally, things happen for no reason, and with even less justification. What made Thor's brother so evil so fast? Why doesn't Thor have his powers anymore? Is that the guy who played The Punisher, dressed in a fat suit and eating shanks of meat? There's no time, and no desire, to flesh anything out. As long as you know who's good, who's bad and what got them there, the story's ready to speed along.

To enjoy either one, you're forced to suspend reality. I think the best films do this naturally; you find yourself sucked into the world of the movie, and before long, you become increasingly invested in the plot and its characters. But, by design, Thor and Tree of Life keep you at arm's length.

One's a fantasy, built to rake in big bucks and adapted from 30-year-old drawings designed for children. The other's a semi-autobiographical work of art, created by an eccentric director who loves nature and adores Zoolander. But at the end of the day, it's difficult (if not impossible) for viewers to engage with either.

Thor suffers from the usual big-budget incomprehensibility; Tree of Life, on a personal level, won't give you what you aren't looking to receive. But when they each finished, I walked out stymied, wishing I had been handed just a little more. There are apparently two very different roads to being inexplicable.

The curious case of Jonathan Lester.

Jon Lester, shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Perfectly built as a power pitcher with a five deadly pitches and a poised warrior's mind.

Lester is already known as perhaps the best young left-handed pitcher in baseball. He throws a hard 4-seam fastball, a 2-seamer, a devastating cutter (his best pitch), a good curve and an increasingly effective change-up. He throws inside and out, up and down, hard and soft. He goes deep into games and stubbornly refuses to yield the lead. His focus never waivers. He is the last person another team wants to see on the mound. He is a brick wall.

His typical outing is 7 or 8 innings, allowing a run or two. Eight or nine strikeouts. And a win. He stops losing streaks, starts winning streaks and leads off the most important playoff matchups. His typical season is 200+ innings, 200+ strikeouts and nearly 20 wins, an honor he has barely missed on more than one occasion. Every year, the experts pick him to win a Cy Young. This year, I drafted him to my fantasy team.

And he is 8-2 in 2011 after beating the Yankees on June 8, a win that put the Red Sox in a tie for first place. Everything is perfect! Except not exactly, and certainly not for the perfectionist that is Jon Lester.

Nearly every year, Jon suffers through an April funk before becoming automatic from May onwards. This year, however, that didn't happen. After losing on Opening Day, Lester fired off an impressive string of fairly dominant starts; he's been no small part of the team's rapid rise in the division. But on May 10, he fired off a dud in Toronto and hasn't been himself since.

Of last six starts, only two have been quality. His ERA in that stretch is over 5.00, and his WHIP is 1.70. He has hit nine batters so far this year; he's never hit more than 10 in an entire season. He is on pace for a .256 opponent BA and 1.36 WHIP, which would both be the highest marks since his first ace-like season in 2008. He still finds a way to gut his way through each start and pitch just well enough to win, but doing that for an extended amount of time will tire out any pitcher. The season is exhausting enough.

So what's wrong, Jon? His fastball velocity, usually 93-96 MPH, is more like 92-94. His command is off, which has him either stuck in hitter's counts or unable to put someone away on a two-strike count. The walks and pitch counts rise, so he's having trouble going deep into games.

Even his body language is ugly. His shoulder flies open, he slaps at the ball as the catcher throws it back, he looks at the landing spot on the mound and works on it far too often. His shoulders slump when a pitch misses, and he screams at himself while walking off the mound.

It's possible Lester is hurt, but there has been little to suggest that so far. He still throws about the same number of pitches per outing, which the Sox probably wouldn't allow if he was injured. My theory is that he is suffering from mechanical issue. It would explain the shoulder flying open, the loss of command, loss of velocity and the general frustration Lester's been showing on the mound. He looks like a man fighting himself, desperately trying to get every part of the machine to work together.

All things considered, it could be much worse. His mediocrity hasn't hurt the one team stat that really counts; he is 4-1 since things started to go wrong. This proves both Lester's ability to bend without breaking and that there's merit to the phrase "better lucky than good." The enormous run support he has received -- over 8 runs per game -- has been the difference between between 8-2 and 5-5.

Taking two steps forward and one step back is fine for now, but this kind of support can't go on forever.

One of the Red Sox's key advantages over their AL East competitors is that they are strong in every major facet of the game: offense, defense, base running and pitching. But the pitching advantage won't hold unless their big aces pitch consistently ace-like, so Lester and the coaching staff have to work out the kinks quickly. Sooner or later, some new problem will develop, and a pennant-hungry team can't afford too many of them.

The most successful teams balance a small number of weaknesses against a large number of strengths. If Jon Lester gets back to being one of the top pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox will remain one of baseball's best teams.

June 8, 2011

Call me the Bryz.

After some idle speculation about acquiring Tim Thomas, the Philadelphia Flyers have traded for yet another goaltending savior, the latest answer in a seemingly never-ending question that has been asked since the early days of Ron Hextall.

This year's contender is Ilya Bryzgalov, the 30-year-old former Phoenix Coyotes netminder. The free-agent-to-be is a name that has been tossed around a lot over the last few months, especially since he expressed disinterest in following the team to Winnipeg.

Even the most strident Sergei Bobrovsky/Brian Boucher defenders would have trouble arguing that Bryzgalov won't be a major upgrade on paper. His 2.48 GAA was 12th amongst starters, and his .921 save percentage was ninth. And he has seven shutouts, which are "games where the opposing teams score zero goals" for all those Flyers fans who've forgotten the term.

But will Bryzgalov be a fit in Philly? His agent noted yesterday that "the only Flyer goaltender to have statistics like [Ilya] was Bernie Parent," which is lofty praise for someone who hasn't even set foot in the city yet. Expectations will be high, like they always are, and there's no guarantee that Ilya will live up to them. He's 12-13 in the playoffs with a 2.55 GAA and .917 save percentage; solid numbers but not exactly a series-stealer like Thomas has been in 2011.

Plus, Tim Panaccio's already noted that Bryzgalov may not be a fit for the "Bob's mentor" role that some are envisioning. Apparently he can "get a little goofy on you," which isn't a surprise when it comes to goalies but not necessarily the most enviable trait for young Bobrovsky's role model to exhibit.

Then again, that shit is always overrated. Everyone always wants to hear that Player X is teaching all of his tricks to Player Y, and they're best friends ready to take on all comers. But Bobrovsky's already put together a very solid rookie season, and Bryzgalov is a hired gun brought in to backstop this group of players to a championship in the next year or two. I'm sure watching a good goalie ply his trade every night will do more than enough for Bob's "development," and if not, well, that's why they pay Jeff Reese: to teach goalies.

As for the move itself, I can't say I saw it coming. Paul Holmgren should be commended for his Ruben Amaro-esque aggressiveness, but it hasn't always paid off. Trading for the rights of Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell in 2007 led to a nice, smooth signing, but the team also gave away assets in an attempt to snap up Evgeni Nabokov and Dan Hamhuis, only to see negotiations with both players fall apart.

And now Holmgren has to make the money work. Sam Carchidi speculated on Twitter last night that, in order to pay the Bryz, the Flyers will probably move a defenseman (Matt Carle?) and let Ville Leino walk. I won't miss Leino too much, but the team's defensive "depth" was already exposed in the playoffs. Losing someone won't help on that front; they're going to need another year of giant minutes from Chris Pronger and Timonen. Neither man, however, is a spring chicken; Pronger's health in particular is very much a question mark. As good as Bryzgalov might be, he won't take the team far without a solid group of defenders in front of him.

Free agency doesn't begin until July 1, so Holmgren will have plenty of time to lock up Bryzgalov and make the necessary accompanying moves. That will be (relatively) easy. The tough part will be battling through roughly 100 hockey games, keeping key players healthy and focused, and emerging with the Stanley Cup. If Bryzgalov can play a big part in pulling that off, maybe we will be comparing him to Bernie someday.

June 3, 2011

Don't you fret about the Boston Red Sox.

Roughly one week ago, I wrote of the Boston Red Sox and their rocket-like ascension toward the glory that they rightfully deserved. And then, like an idiot, I sat underneath a ladder as a black cat walked by and forgot to knock on wood. Since then the Sox are 0-4, having just been swept at home by the pitiful White Sox.

Alfredo Aceves seems to be on his way back to being a pumpkin, and as quickly as Carl Crawford attained fiery hotness, he was dunked in a bucket of ice. J.D. Drew remains in pain, Kevin Youkilis appears to be consistently dinged up, and who's to say which John Lackey will show up when he comes off the DL in a few days. Dice-K is likely to have Tommy John surgery and be lost for the year -- which I suppose is a "bad thing" -- and reclamation project Rich Hill was kicking ass until his elbow popped on Wednesday, likely sidelining him for the season. Hideki Okajima? He wants to be traded rather than pounded by Major League hitters.

But is this cause for emergency? Certainly not. Back when the Sox were 2-10, that was an emergency. This is a speed bump on the road to an AL East title. The Red Sox may have built up some negative momentum, drifting back toward .500 and losing a bit of ground on the Yankees, but the timing of the losing streak and the injuries makes the situation look worse than it really is.

We all knew Aceves couldn't keep it up forever, and Time Wakefield has been doing an admirable job in the rotation. Lackey will be back soon and couldn't possibly be worse (I feel pretty confident in my inability to jinx this) and Hill, while great in his limited time, was ultimately just a lefty middle reliever. The team will hand his innings to someone else and survive the loss. As for Dice-K going down, does anyone really care? I don't think Tito Francona, Curt Young or Varitek will lose even the slightest bit of sleep over it.

At some point, the front office will look to improve the depth of the starting rotation, but right now that isn't the issue. If the team plays hard and avoids serious injuries to the core players, their winning percentage will to trend upward and the rest of the league will soon only be visible in the rear view mirror. Rub some dirt on it and get out there!