Fluke or Legitimate: Red Sox Bullpen Has Tough Act To Follow

Koji Uehara and the Red Sox bullpen weren’t just average during their World Series run this past October. They were a major reason why they even won the title. However, repeating the kind of run the Sox bullpen established during the 2013 campaign will be incredibly difficult to replicate, especially when considering the concept of regression to the mean.

Hot streaks in baseball are difficult to maintain for a long period of time. That’s exactly what happened to the Red Sox bullpen last season. They had the 21st best bullpen ERA in the regular season at 3.70. However, they got hot in October and had a bullpen ERA of 1.28 over 49.1 innings pitched thanks in part to Uehara’s dominant performance where he didn’t allow a single walk and only surrendered one run.

There is no reason to believe that the Red Sox will jump out of the gate with those kind of numbers in 2014 and this is a cause for concern. While Boston has enough starting pitching and hitting to get to the playoffs this season, having a dominant bullpen is important in the playoffs. Since 2008, teams that had the lowest bullpen ERAs in a minimum of 10 playoff games went on to win the World Series.

One of the most glaring stats about the Red Sox bullpen from last season is the number of inherited runners they allowed to score – 34 percent. This means that over a third of the runners that were inherited by a relief pitcher came into score. These runs are reflected in the previous pitcher’s ERA. With that in mind, saying that the Red Sox bullpen ERA was 3.70 last season is not completely accurate because a lot of those runners were charged to the starting pitcher.

Red Sox pitchers also threw 23,990 pitches last season — seventh highest in the Majors and second-highest among the 2013 playoff teams. This is more on the relievers than the starters. Most starters are going to throw between 90 to 100 pitches in any given game. The total number of pitchers thrown in the game, though, is dependent on the relievers. If relievers get quick outs, then that number would be far lower.

Looking at individual pitchers, perhaps the one guarantee we can get from the Sox bullpen is Uehara’s accuracy. He didn’t walk a single batter throughout the entire playoffs and he had an otherworldly strikeout to walk ratio during the regular season with 101 punch outs to nine base on balls. This is the modern era record. The reason why it’s expected for Uehara to not walk any batters is because he’s always been that kind of a pitcher. He has only walked 38 batters in his five-year MLB career. 

That said, as he becomes 39 years old, it’s going to be difficult for Uehara to replicate his outstanding numbers from last season. He had a career-best 1.09 ERA last season and a dominant World Series campaign. Throughout the process, the 38-year old Osaka native won the ALCS MVP, putting his name in Hall of Fame company along with Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera as pitchers to have won the honors. That said, at 39, it will be difficult to match those honors.

Junichi Tazawa is another pitcher that had an impressive postseason run for the Red Sox. However, he had a 3.16 ERA in the regular season and he has a history of long-term injuries that have sidelined him in the past. He missed all of 2010 and almost all of 2011 due to injuries. What’s to say that those injuries can’t return? After all, players with injury histories are more susceptible to get hurt than those without them.

Other relievers like Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman were highly inconsistent last season. Breslow pitched a third of an inning in the World Series and bombed in it despite having a 1.81 ERA in the regular season. Meanwhile, Workman didn’t allow a single run in the World Series, but had an ERA close to five in the regular season.

The Red Sox will get Andrew Bailey back in their bullpen. Bailey was supposed to be the closer for the team before getting hurt and opening the door for Uehara. In his stint, though, Bailey struggled with an ERA of 3.77 meaning his injury was almost a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. There is no way they could have won the World Series with that kind of output from their closer in the playoffs.

Finally, the Sox also made a couple of free agency additions adding Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop. Mujica pitched against Boston in the World Series as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He had an impressive 46 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio last season and could be a solid value signing for the team.

That being said, the Red Sox got hot in October. They may have had the best bullpen that month, but it was nowhere near the best bullpen in the entire season as evidenced by their high ERA and inability to hold inherited runners on base. If this continues, the Red Sox may be looking at a giant obstacle to overcome if they want to repeat.

 

 

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MarShon Brooks Leads Lakers Past Celtics

When MarShon Brooks was a member of the Boston Celtics throughout the first half of the season, there’s no doubt that he was probably getting frustrated because of his limited playing time.

Two trades and six weeks later, Brooks found himself suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time against the team that traded him in January and he did everything in his power to let the Celtics know they made a mistake letting him go.

Brooks scored 10 fourth quarter points in a season-high 23 minutes, as he helped the Lakers overcome a 13-point deficit to beat the Celtics 102-91 on Friday night at Staples Center.

The former first-round pick has had a frustrating year so far. Aside from being traded three times in less than a year, he only averaged 6.2 minutes per game in his stints with the Celtics and Golden State Warriors and even spent time with their respective D-League teams.

After leading 74-61 with less than a minute to go in the third quarter, Brooks’ former team collapsed defensively. The Lakers outscored Boston 40-18 over the last 13 minutes of the game led by a surge by Brooks where he scored 10 consecutive points in a span of just over two minutes to cut the lead to five.

Jordan Farmar, who along with Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo were the only two remnants on both teams from the 2010 NBA Finals,  hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two points. On the very next possession, a Jeryd Bayless turnover turned into an emphatic Brooks dunk which evened up the score. The former first-round pick finished with 14 points.

After the Lakers took the lead, veteran Chris Kaman caught fire and buried the Celtics by scoring eight points over the last 6:39.

The victory for the Lakers snapped an eight-game home losing streak, which was the longest in franchise history. Like the Celtics, the Lakers are in rebuilding mode and they acquired Brooks right before the trade deadline along with Kent Bazemore, who scored 15 points in his Laker debut, from Golden State for oft-injured point guard Steve Blake.

The Celtics, who stood pat on deadline day, controlled the pace throughout the first three quarters as they held the offensive-minded Lakers to just 63 points. The game between the two storied rivals was a sloppy affair throughout this period as both teams combined for 25 turnovers – 15 of which came from the Lakers. The teams also combined for just 6-for-32 shooting from 3-pointers during that span.

The difference of the game was the Lakers’ ability to finally be able to score and the continuation of the Celtics struggles from the field. The Celtics shot just 39 percent on the night and were an abysmal 18 percent from 3-point land. After the Lakers established a lead late in the fourth, the Staples Center crowd, which had been silent for most of the game, broke out in a familiar anti-Boston chant with 3:45 left in the game.

Jeff Green and Brandon Bass led the way offensively for Boston with 21 and 20 points, respectively. However, Rondo was held to just 2-of-12 shooting and Boston’s bench was silent for much of the game as they were outscored by the Los Angeles bench, 63-21.

The Celtics have now lost three consecutive game and are winless after their second game of their four-game west coast road swing. This also marks the sixth loss in seven tries against their arch-rival. The Lakers swept the season series for the second time in three years.

If there is any silver lining from having a player who once rode your benches burn you, the Lakers are now a half-game ahead of the Celtics, which matters in terms of draft lottery percentages. Perhaps that could be an arguing point for Boston fans, who have found it awfully difficult to be positive about anything this season.

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Lakers Try To End Slump Against Celtics

With the trading deadline behind us, everyone on the Los Angeles Lakers from Jordan Hill to Pau Gasol can now take a deep breath and focus on basketball. The team looks to snap its eight-game home losing streak, which is the longest in franchise history, against the Boston Celtics.

After trading Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers will welcome newly acquired players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. Brooks and Bazemore have been rarely used this season. Brooks is only averaging 2.6 points per game in 17 games this season, while Bazemore is only averaging 2.3 points per game in 44 games.

The purpose of the trade was financial. Although the Lakers did not get under the luxury tax with the trade, they will save $3 million in taxes because of the move. It also helps that the Lakers can lock up Bazemore for a cheap price next year if he accepts the team’s qualifying offer.

While the Lakers are just now seeing that they need to rebuild (shelling out near $50 million to an aging veteran is not a sign of rebuilding), the Celtics have been on that road for awhile now. After parting ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the offseason, the team also made two trades in January and stocked up on more draft picks. In those trades, the C’s acquired Joel Anthony and Jeryd Bayless, who can both potentially come off the books after this season, thus freeing up more cap room.

These two teams are headed in the same direction this year, but the Celtics have done a better job building for the future as they potentially could have five draft picks over the next two years. They also will have plenty of more cap space and play in a weaker conference and have established a coach for the future in Brad Stevens. Keeping star point guard Rajon Rondo during the trade deadline also helps them establish a young core along with Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger going into next year.

The Lakers will have their hands full because of those four players tonight. After a slow start from his return from injury, Rondo has been more effective, averaging 15.2 points and 9.4 assists over the last five games. Green is the team’s leading scorer with 16.5 points per game and Sullinger has established himself as a solid option down low averaging 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

The Celtics enter the game having lost two in a row after they won four of their first five games in February. They are in the midst of a four-game west coast swing. They lost their first game of the road trip to Phoenix.

Boston has had their struggles scoring this season as they have the fifth-worst shooting percentage (43.6 percent) and the third-worst 3-point percentage (33.1 percent).

The Lakers, on the other hand, enter the showdown against the Celtics having only won five games since December 21. One of those five wins came against the Celtics in Boston in mid-January. The Lakers won a thriller led by Kendall Marshall’s clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, 107-104, during their Grammy trip.

In fact, the Lakers have had their way against the Celtics as of late, winning five of their last six games against their biggest rival.

If the Lakers want to end their slump tonight, they will need to dictate the pace against a Celtics team that isn’t known for its offense, as mentioned above. They will also need to tighten up defensively and force the Celtics to take outside shots — something they haven’t been good at all year. The Lakers gave up 134 points to the Houston Rockets last time out despite shooting over 48 percent from the field in the loss.

Finally, Marshall needs to take the Blake trade as a vote of confidence. He needs to realize that he has officially earned playing time with the team. He’s not on the roster because of injuries anymore. He’s been playing extremely well (averaging 12.2 assists in the last five games) despite the team’s lack of success.

Other players who have stepped up for the Lakers recently are Chris Kaman (averaging 19.2 points in the last five games) and Jodie Meeks (averaging 19 points in the last five games).

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Celtics Roster Salary Breakdown

The Boston Celtics entered the 2013-14 season in rebuilding mode. This team was never built to be a contender or fight for an NBA title. The Celtics’ management has been extremely wise in terms of managing the team, though.

For one, there are plenty of non-guaranteed and rookie scale contracts on the roster. It’ll be surprising to see guys like Keith Bogans, Jeryd Bayless, Joel Anthony, Phil Pressey, and Chris Johnson as part of the team’s future. The whole point of them having non-guaranteed contracts is so the team wouldn’t be responsible for paying them if they were to waive or trade them later on.

The Celtics also have a huge expiring contract that will help clear up salary space after this season – Kris Humphries, who is the highest paid player on the team making $12 million. This will enable them to acquire free agents who can serve as role players that will surround whoever they decide to draft this year with their lottery pick.

The team is also doing a good job transitioning to be a contender again. Management is doing its best to make this rebuilding process quick. They already have somewhat of a homegrown core. Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green were all either drafted by the Celtics or acquired by the team on draft day. They’re all young enough to be part of the future for the team. All but Bradley, who has a team option, are under contract for next year.

The Celtics don’t have too many bad contracts that handicap their ability to stay under the luxury tax or salary cap. They are currently above the salary cap and are on the brink of hitting the luxury tax, but this should be alleviated once Humphries’ contract is off the books.

If there is a bad contract the Celtics do have, it’s Gerald Wallace, who they acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade. Wallace will be making over $10 million until 2016, but he’s only averaging 4.8 points per game this year.  Not exactly bang for your buck. That being said, because the Celtics have so many non-guaranteed contracts, giving $10 million and change to Wallace for the next two years won’t hurt them too much.

Brandon Bass is another guy who is under contract for next season. He will be making over $6 million next year, but his play is showing that he deserves it as he’s averaging close to 11 points and six rebounds per game.

 

Rounding out the roster is Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk, who are both under rookie scale contracts. The Celtics can potentially keep Olynyk on a rookie scale contract until 2018, assuming they pick up his two team options and he accepts a qualifying offer in 2017-18. That’s good value for a guy who was taken in the middle of the first round last year.

Going into next season, the Celtics guaranteed sum of player salaries will be close to $44.7 million. Assuming they pick up Bradley’s team option, that total will be around $48.3 million. The salary cap this season is $58.7 million. Assuming it’s bumped up to $59 million for next year, the Celtics will have some wiggle room to add a couple of modest free agents before using their mid-level exception.

Let’s not forget that they’ll also have to sign their draft picks from this year. Fortunately, they will be rookie scale contracts and won’t be that detrimental to their cap space.

Once again, it’s important to note that the team could make use of their non-guaranteed contracts and either waive or trade those guys in order to open up more cap space.

All in all, the Celtics are in good hands. With potentially five draft picks over the next two years, developing cap space starting this summer, and a respectable core, the team should be able to bounce back into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference as early as next season.

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USA Routs Slovakia In First Olympic Game

The Miracle on Ice happened 34 years ago, but it’s been a mini-miracle of some sorts that the United States has yet to capture a gold medal in hockey since that glorious week in Lake Placid despite having the luxury of using NHL players – something no team was allowed to have back in 1980.

The U.S. took its first step to erase their gold medal drought after they trounced on Slovakia with six second period goals en route to a 7-1 victory in Sochi. Paul Stastny, whose father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, played extensively for the Czechoslovakian and Slovakian national teams throughout his career and is a actually a member of the European parliament in Slovakia, scored two goals as part of the win.

Team USA only had one tuneup before their first game because of the fact that the entire team is composed of NHL players, all of whom had to make the long trip from North America. Perhaps from lack of chemistry or rust, the Americans didn’t get their first goal until 14:27 into the first period when Natick native and current Washington Capital John Carlson ripped a shot past Jaroslav Halak to give the U.S. 1-0 lead.

The Americans had numerous opportunities in the first period, outshooting Slovakia 11-4 but it wasn’t until the second when they broke loose. Tomas Tatar and the Slovakians would answer in the second period to even up the score, but after that it was all Team USA.

Just 58 seconds after Tatar’s goal, Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler received a pass from Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and ripped it past Halak from the slot. From there, the Americans never looked back. About a minute later, Stastny scored his first goal of the game to give the Americans a 3-1 lead.

Stastny’s second goal helped put the Red, White, and Blue up 5-1 and it came on a beautiful cross-ice pass which Stastny buried behind Halak. Halak’s night ended early as he got pulled from the game following that goal. Phil Kessel, David Backes, and Dustin Brown also notched goals and helped show the world that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with this Olympic year.

After Halak was chased out of the game, Peter Budaj allowed two more goals before settling down with a clean third period. In the American net, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots, including three from Bruins’ defenseman and Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara, and bounced back well after allowing a goal to Tatar.

The Americans are looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking gold medal game loss to Team Canada in Vancouver. In fact, the United States has only medaled twice since the Lake Placid games with another silver medal coming in the 2002 Salt Lake City games. More interestingly, the Americans have failed to medal in hockey in a non-North American venue since 1972 when they won silver in Sapporo.

The size of the U.S. victory puts the Americans at the top of Group A because of a superior goal differential over Russia, who also won in Group A play. Team USA returns to action on Saturday against host country Russia in a highly anticipated matchup at the Bolshoy Ice Dome before playing Slovenia on Sunday to close out group play. The United States will look to channel a little bit of that 1980 magic against the Russians.

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Trade Deadline Expectations for Boston Celtics

With the trade deadline looming on February 20, it seems as though nobody is untouchable on the Boston Celtics. That said, a move isn’t exactly necessary for the team – nor should it be expected.

Boston is a rebuilding team that has already made two trades this season. This takes pressure off the team to make a move. However, they also have solid players like Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green that contenders can use to make a run in the playoffs.

While it may be tempting to get assets for these guys, the Celtics already have a stockpile of draft picks over the next several years. It may actually be wise to hold on to Rondo, Green, and Bradley – all of whom compose the core of the team. It’s important to note that the trio is under contract for next season and they are all 27 or younger. This means they are young enough to be a part of the rebuilding process.

Despite this, if the Celtics get an offer they can’t refuse for anyone on their team, they will likely do it. None of these guys on their team are transcendent building blocks to a championship. The team hopes to draft that guy this June in the draft. Until then, consider everyone on the team untouchable.

The most likely player to be shipped is Brandon Bass. The forward has had a solid season thus far, averaging 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds on 47 percent shooting. Bass also has 54 games of playoff experience in his career which means he’ll bring a young team veteran leadership. Finally, he’s under contract for next year, too, which means he won’t be a rental player for a team that acquires him.

Most importantly, the Celtics are stacked at the power forward position. They already have Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries. All of these guys have experience at the four. Consequently, Boston can afford to part ways with Bass. He can probably help them land a second-round pick and an expiring contract to help them clear more cap space heading into the offseason.

Speaking of draft picks, the Celtics are in an interesting situation this season. Even though they are rebuilding and are considered sellers in the market, they could actually become buyers if they see a player that they like. The reason for this is because of their draft pick situation. They just have so many first-round draft picks over the next several years that they can afford to give one up for a player that they think can help them in the near future. First-round draft picks are extremely valuable and teams may be willing to give up a B to B-plus player for one.

Boston is also not far behind from a playoff spot. They have won four of their last five games and are only four and a half games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth seed. An acquisition can help propel them to a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.

It’s an unlikely situation, but it’s definitely in the realm of possibilities if the Celtics like what they see. What most likely will happen is that the Celtics will make a minor trade or none at all because of the fact that they have already made a pair of transactions this season.

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Celtics Three-Game Winning Streak Snapped After Rough Shooting Night

If Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics think they can still make the playoffs, they can’t afford to have offense letdowns like the one they had Sunday night at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics shot just 27.1 percent from the field in the first half after shooting 48 percent in their last three wins. They never really recovered until the fourth quarter when they scored 35 points, but at that point it was too late as the Celtics lost 102-91.

Boston entered the game with a three-game winning streak and only four games behind the eighth-seeded Charlotte Bobcats. They still have 29 games to play, but dismal shooting performances like the one we saw in the first half will make it difficult for the team to get on a run and make the playoffs.

After missing the last game due to injury, Avery Bradley returned to the lineup but was abysmal as he shot just 2-for-13 from the field and finished with five points in 18 minutes. Jared Sullinger, who had a monster game in Boston’s last win against Sacramento with 31 points and 16 rebounds, was just 4-for-13 from the field with 11 points and failed to make a 3-pointer on his four attempts from downtown.

Rondo also made his return to the lineup after not playing in the previous game and was one of the few bright spots for the Celtics as he scored 15 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds. Chris Johnson also continued to play well. After the front office made the decision to keep him on the roster, Johnson scored 14 points in just 15 minutes of action. All of Johnson’s points came off three-pointers in the fourth quarter and his excellent shooting helped

Meanwhile, the Mavericks had balanced scoring as six players reached double-figures. Dirk Nowitzki led the team in scoring with 20 points and had an incredible presence on both ends of the floor exemplified by his +24 plus-minus rating. Jose Calderon was also effective, scoring 18 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the win.

Nowitzki started the game off strong after scoring seven of the team’s first eight points. His dominance in the first half would continue as he finished with 15 points in the first two frames.

While Dirk and company were finding the net with regularity in the first half, the Celtics fell in an atrocious slump. Jeff Green, Sullinger, and Bradley combined for just 8-for-34 shooting in the first three quarters. As a result, the Mavericks were able to open up a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics, however, got hot in the last half of the fourth quarter and ended up shooting over 50 percent from the field. Aided by Johnson’s threes, the Celtics cut the lead to nine with 1:18 to go. However, there was too little time left on the clock to make a miraculous comeback.

The C’s could still make a miraculous comeback of other sorts in the Eastern Conference standings. They have less than a three percent chance to make the playoffs according to Basketball Reference. That said, if they shoot the way they did during their three-game winning streak and less like the way they did in the first three quarters of tonight’s game, they could easily raise their chances of making the playoffs.

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