Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wakefield Drags Tiger's Skid to 5 Games

Tim Wakefield has been reasonably solid all year, now posting a 3-1 record, but last night's 8 IP, 2 hits, 0 R, 0 walk performance was his first really dominant performance of the year. Wakefield has brought the struggling Tigers to their fifth consecutive loss by holding the Tigers to a mere two hits over 8 innings of work, before Mike Timlin ate a scoreless 9th inning to possibly build some confidence with a healthy five-run lead.

The Red Sox bats continue to produce. The Sox tagged Tigers starter Nate Robertson for 3 runs in the second inning by stringing together a walk from Mike Lowell, a double from Kevin Youkilis, a single from JD Drew, a double from Kevin Cash and a sacrifice from Coco Crisp. Robertson would allow base runners in all 7 innings that he pitched in and hits in all but the first inning. Finally, Robertson was chased from the game after a David Ortiz homerun. This would bring in Tigers reliever Freddy Dolsi for his first appearance in the majors, he picked a hell of a batter to start out on and Manny Ramirez would go deep to make it back to back homeruns. Manny had an impressive night at 3/5 at the plate, this homerun puts him to 497 career homeruns. Ortiz's homerun gives him two in the last two games. In the last 5 games with a plate appearance Ortiz has steadily dragged his batting average from .172 up to .225, hopefully this is a sign that David truly has broken out of this early season slump. Kevin Cash was also a pleasant surprise with a 3/4 performance. Cash has been solid all year long and now owns an impressive .361 batting average. It's nice to know we have options in the event that Jason Varitek is injured or hits a prolonged slump.

Clay Bucholz (2-2, 3.71 ERA) will take the mound tonight against Armando Galarraga (2-1, 1.88 ERA)

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Allen, Pierce and King James Disappoint in Game 1

If you had told me that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would combine for 4 points in Game 1, I would assume that they had lost. If you told me LeBron James would only put up 12 I would assume the Celtics would have won easily. Both of these things happened on Tuesday night, but fortunately the Celtics were able to come out on top 76-72 in a game that highlighted the defensive skills of these two teams.

Both teams failed to hit a true offensive rhythm, but KG would have the best performance of the night with 28 points, 13-22 from the field and 2/2 for free throws. Rajon Rondo also had a solid night with 15 points, 5-8 from the field and 5-6 from the charity stripe. Sam Cassell also came up big scoring 13 points in just 18 minutes of play. Sam was 4-8 shooting including 2-4 from beyond the arc.

Cleveland also had it's fair share of players that stepped up with Zydrunas Ilgauskas putting up 22 as the game's high scorer, followed by Wally Szczerbiak with 13.

Despite lackluster performances by Pierce and Allen, I got a good feeling about the series from this game. The Cavs had more preparation time and rest than the Celtics, but the Celtics still managed to take care of business at home. Despite their offensive miscues, the Celtics played stalwart defense and were able to contain King James, even if this did open up other opportunities for Ilgauskas and Szczerbiak to make plays. It is unlikely that they can keep James under wraps like that for the remainder of the series, but it is just as unlikely that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will continue to struggle to score points as they did in Game 1.
Photo Credit:
(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Celtics Finally Put Down Upstart Hawks/Red Sox Complete Revenge Sweep of Rays

Round 1 Game 7- Boston 99, Atlanta 65

After the upstart Atlanta Hawks won all 3 games in Atlanta to push the Celtics to a deciding game 7 at home the tank seemed to be completely out of gas as they were steamrolled by the Celtics at the Garden. The media has harped on it incessantly, but it's worth dwelling on as the games in Atlanta seemed to be the polar opposite of those played in Boston:

Boston Avg Points Per Game in Boston: 98.75
Boston Avg Points Per Game in Atlanta: 95
Atlanta Avg Points Per Game in Boston: 77
Atlanta Avg Points Per Game in Atlanta: 100.67

That's a 23 point difference in production for Atlanta at home! Away from the Garden the Celtics seemed to lack intensity and crumbled in the fourth quarter if the score was anywhere near close, in Boston the fourth quarter was little more than a formality for the Celtics and often ended with the Big 3 sitting for most of it.

I'll give the Hawks some credit, they showed some pride by playing hard in their home court and refusing to roll over for the Celtics after going down 0-2. That said, the officiating in this series seemed lopsided, which culminated in Game 6 with a called 6th foul on Paul Pierce at a pivotal point in the fourth quarter. The most staggering figure was the disparity in free throw attempts, the Hawks had 220 free throw attempts against the Celtics 152. To some extent this is reflective of the Hawks style of basketball, which largely revolved around sending somebody inside to draw the foul rather than backing off and taking a jump shot or kicking it out to the perimeter the way the Celtics often do. I found it ironic that despite Mike Bibby's claim that the Celtics fans were fair-weather fans, it seemed to match the description of Atlanta's own fan base. Every time the Hawks announcer had to queue the crowd to begin a "De-Fense" or "Let's Go Hawks" chant I laughed a little inside at Bibby's comments.

Unfortunately, the 37 win Hawks have exposed some key weaknesses of the Celtics in this series.
1. Difficulty playing away from home: Every crowd the outside the Garden the Celtics match up against is going to be hysterical, convinced that they can rattle the Celtics.

2. Difficulty closing out games in the fourth quarter: In games 4 and 6 in Atlanta the Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a lead, but would walk out losers. In Game 4 the Celtics entered the fourth with a healthy 10 point lead, but collapsed with the Hawks outscoring them 32-17. With this in mind few teams are going to be mentally calling it quits if the game is still within reach entering the fourth.

The Celtics will start it up with the King James and the Cavaliers on Tuesday night in Boston.

Sox Sweep Rays Out of Fenway

Prior to the Series with the Rays, the Red Sox had been in the midst of an offensive slump. They had managed to take 2 out of 3 from Toronto thanks to some stellar pitching and some late inning heroics, but over a five game stretch had only scored 4 runs. The Sox seemed to get their swing back against the Rays scoring a combined 26 runs over 3 games. The Red Sox starting pitching has also been stellar lately. With this sweep the Red Sox take a 3 game lead in the AL East with the Yankees, Rays and O's all tied for 3rd place.

The Sox open a 10 game road trip tomorrow night in Detroit. The Tigers continue to struggle and are coming home after being swept by the Twins.