I thought it’d be a lark to watch a Gaelic football match at Banshee Pub in Dorchester Saturday. Once I realized how honest and raw the sport was (compared with soccer, for instance), I wound up enjoying myself far more than I expected.
Opening Day may be Thursday, but first the Boston Red Sox had to wrap up their final week of Spring Training. And while Boston won its final two games, finishing Spring Training with a respectable 16-11-4 record, thumb injuries to Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey overshadowed the victories.
Beckett may yet make his first start, but Bailey will be out until the All-Star Break, further depleting a bullpen that looked less-than-impressive this spring.
But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s get on with the final Spring Training Update of 2012!
Red Sox 4, Nationals 2
Aaron Cook couldn’t pitch his way into the major league starting rotation, but he made a decent case to be the first man called up from Triple-A, holding Washington to just a run on two hits – one homer – and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings Monday. Cook’s final 1.88 ERA trailed only Beckett among the starters.
The Red Sox went up 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Jason Repko‘s RBI double – more than enough runs for their surprisingly effective relievers. Led by perfect innings from Vicente Padilla (hold) and Franklin Morales (save), the bullpen allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over the final four innings.
Opening Day is less than a week away. Who’ll be starting Thursday in Detroit became a lot clearer this week, when the Red Sox hammered out their infield and starting rotation. They optioned both Jose Iglesias (.200 BA, five RBIs in nine games) and Lars Anderson (.343 AVG, eight RBIs in 18 games) to Pawtucket Tuesday, then announced Sunday that Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront would complete their starting rotation.
Only the outfield remains unsettled, but Cody Ross will certainly be on the roster. Ross went 5-12 this week, homering four times, scoring five runs and driving in 10. He also won this week’s Spring Training Player of the Week award!
Ross played a big part in Boston’s 4-1-1 week. Who else helped out? Here’s the update from the final full week of Spring Training (delayed a day due to my NCAA championship preview).
Red Sox 6, Phillies 0
It seems Jon Lester can still dominate after all. Lester submitted the best start of the Spring, striking out 10 Philadelphia hitters while giving up just two hits and hitting a batter in seven scoreless innings. He threw six 1-2-3 innings.
Boston’s offense, meanwhile, banged out 11 hits Monday, including three home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s first-inning home run made it 1-0, then Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in the second and scored on a throwing error two batters later.
The Red Sox went up 5-0 in the fifth on David Ortiz‘s RBI single, followed by Ross’ third preseason home run. Non-roster infielder Mauro Gomez homered in the top of the ninth to make it 6-0.
And at long last, the NCAA Championship arrives. From the South, we have the Kentucky Wildcats, the overall top-ranked team entering the tournament. And from the Midwest, we have the Kansas Jayhawks, who with a win could tie Duke for fifth-most championships in NCAA history.
But they won’t. Kentucky’s gonna win. Sorry, Kansas.
Kentucky and Kansas basically play the same kind of basketball: their offenses focus on scoring in the paint and getting to the line, and their defenses primarily play half-court and rely on shot-blocking. Unfortunately, if Saturday’s NCAA semifinals are any indication, Kentucky just does these things better.
Despite their considerable skill, Kansas showed a stupidity Saturday that Kentucky didn’t. Kansas passed stupid, throwing the ball repeatedly into triple-teamed teammates, resulting in 17 turnovers and seven blocked shots. They shot stupid as well, relying too often on bizarre scoops and hooks that had zero chance of going in. They even played stupid defense at times, screwing up switches or just forgetting to cover all five opponents.
If Kansas makes the same mental mistakes Monday night, Kentucky’s well-oiled offensive machine will annihilate them. Kansas took 56 shots Saturday and converted 44.6 percent of them. Kentucky only took 49 shots, but they shot with 57.1 percent accuracy. Kentucky shoots lights-out, making even a few extra turnovers by the other team nearly catastrophic.
Beyond Kansas’ inconsistencies, their size could really hurt them. Though slightly shorter, Kentucky’s players average a 10-pound strength advantage over Kansas. Kentucky’s big men, meanwhile, are on average 16 pounds stronger than Kansas’. That could easily translate to more Kentucky free throws, who in the regular season took more free throws than almost any other Division I team.
As a sign of their strength, Kentucky went to the line six more times than Kansas (20 vs. 14) during the semifinals. Kansas shot better at the line, but if both teams do what they did during the regular season, fouls will benefit Kentucky far more.
No matter what scouts say, successful NBA drafting requires as much luck as research. Lower-round draftees sometimes star – Chicago’s Carlos Boozer, for instance – and first-rounders sometimes flop. And the higher that first-rounder goes in the draft, the more embarrassing his struggles.
The most tragically funny stories, then, all come from NBA first overall selections. Here’s my Top 10 for the worst first overall selections.
10) John Lucas: drafted by Houston Rockets in 1976. Lucas averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 assists per game in his career and helped the Rockets to an NBA Finals appearance in 1986, but he threw his talent down the toilet, exiting the NBA to get treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction. Lucas eventually cleaned up and became an NBA head coach. Not exactly a tragedy, but probably a pick the Rockets wish they had back.
9) Pervis Ellison: drafted by Sacramento Kings in 1989. Pervis’ NBA dreams never materialized because he could never stay healthy. He appeared in 70-plus games just once in his 11-year career, averaging just over 43 games per season. And despite his 1992 NBA Most Improved Player award, Ellison went first in a draft that featured nine future All-Stars, including Tim Hardaway and Mookie Blaylock.
8) Michael Olowokandi: drafted by L.A. Clippers in 1998. Had the Clippers not blown this draft, they could’ve had Paul Pierce or Dirk Nowitzki. Instead, they got Olowokandi, who in five seasons averaged fewer than 10 points per game. Under Olowokandi the Clippers won fewer than a third of their games, never qualified for the playoffs and perpetually played under the Lakers’ shadow until drafting Blake Griffin first overall in 2009.