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For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
IS TIM DUNCAN THE ALL-TIME UNDERRATED NBA PLAYER?
REVOLUTIONARY BOB’S PICK IN BELMONT STAKES
SYRACUSE CRUNCH SEEK FIRST CALDER CUP
TWINS; TWO SINGLE-A TEAMS A COMBINED 77-38 (.670)
Just another typical game Thursday night for San Antonio’s Tim Duncan: 20 points and 14 rebounds in a 92-88 road victory over the favored Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Nothing spectacular. Just consistently solid.
I don’t know exactly where the 37-year-old Duncan rates among the all-time great NBA players. If he ever has been included on anyone’s mythical All-Time Top 5 NBA Players list, I haven’t seen it.
But doesn’t he deserve serious consideration for the NBA’s all-time best power forward?
In terms of all-around individual performance, durability, his unselfish attitude and team performance, Duncan is near the top of the mountain.
Here are a few reasons to respect Duncan:
The Spurs were 20-62 the season before the team made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft.
San Antonio hasn’t had a losing season or missed the playoffs since.
Since Duncan arrived and entering Sunday night’s Game 1 of the Finals, the Spurs are 832309 (.729) in the regular season...They’re 30-10 in playoff series and 134-73 in playoff games.
The Spurs have won four NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) and Duncan was Finals MVP three times.
He’s a two-time regular-season MVP (2002, 2003).
He’s a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection (including this comeback season at age 37)...he’s a 3-time All-NBA Second Team selection and a 1-time All-NBA Third Team pick.
He’s an eight-time All-Defensive First Team selection and a six-time All-Defensive Second Team selection.
In 15 NBA seasons, he has averaged 20.2 points (with a .507 field-goal percentage), 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Two reasons Duncan hasn’t received the full respect he deserves are playing in a small market (how much more-revered would he be as a Laker or Knick?) and his laid-back personality. He never complains about his role on the Spurs and has never been critical of a teammate or opponent. He shuns the spotlight and happily shares accolades with the other Spurs.
Time marches on. One reason I’m glad San Antonio has reached the NBA Finals is the opportunity to once again appreciate the understated and underrated talents of Tim Duncan.
SUGGESTION TO THE MIAMI HEAT
Instruct 6-foot-11 softie Chris Bosh that he refrain from hoisting up three-pointers at important points of the games. That’s precisely what San Antonio wants him to do.
REVOLUTIONARY BOB’S PICK TO WIN BELMONT STAKES
For the sixth time in the last eight years, I expect to see three different horses win the three Triple Crown races.
Orb won the Kentucky Derby, Oxbow won the Preakness Stakes and I’m picking Revolutionary to win Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
Here is my worst-to-first forecast:
14th – Midnight Taboo...Has only three career starts and $76,400 in earnings...Has never in a stakes race...Way over his head in this spot...Should be running at Finger Lakes on Saturday.
13th – Frac Daddy...Drew the No. 1 post position and figures to be in front with speedy Palace Malice. No reason to expect him to hold up for 1 ½ miles...Best race was 2nd as a long shot in the Arkansas Derby...16th in the Kentucky Derby.
12th – Palace Malice – He set a ridiculously fast pace under jockey Mike Smith in the Kentucky Derby before fading to finish 12th. Smith figures to slow down the pace Saturday but this colt still figures to be empty when the serious running starts.
11th – Great Finish...Not likely to have a great finish on Saturday...3rd in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes...10th in the Kentucky Derby...Will try to join Ruthless (1867), Fenian (1869) and Forester (1882) as the only New York-breds to win the Belmont Stakes.
10th – Incognito...Who knows?...Sire was 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy...3rd in Grade 2 Peter Pan...This spot is much tougher.
9th—Freedom Child...Won the Grade 2 Peter Pan in gate-to-wire fashion by 13 ¼ lengths after being declared a non-starter in the Wood Memorial (compromised at the break)...Has some ability...Mystery colt at a big price.
8th – Vyjack...Won his first four career starts, including the Grade 2 Jerome and the Grade 3 Gotham...Trying to join Crème Fraiche in 1985 and Ruler On Ice in 2011 as the only geldings to win the Belmont Stakes...First race since 18th in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 18x1.
7th – Unlimited Budget...A large filly but in tough against the boys in this “Test of the Champion”...Of the 22 previous fillies to run in the Belmont Stakes, only three won Ruthless in the first Belmont Stakes in 1867, Tanya in 1905 and Rags to Riches in 2007...Rosie Napravnik will ride (she’ll be the first female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year). A lot of women figure to lose a lot of money backing the two gals in this race.
6th – Golden Soul...Rallied from 15th to finish second at odds of 34x1 in the Kentucky Derby...Skipped the Preakness Stakes to rest for the Belmont Stakes...Finished worse than 4th only once since November...Outside post position No. 14 no bargain.
5th – Overanalyze...Chance at a price...Won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (beat Oxbow by 5 ¼ lengths) and 11th in the Kentucky Derby. Owner Mike Repole (he has three horses in this race) says this colt didn’t like the wet track at Churchill Downs that day.
4th – Will Take Charge...Will fire one of these days to win a big race....Best victory so far was over Oxbow in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes...8th in the Kentucky Derby and 7th in the Preakness Stakes, with some minor traffic problems in both races...Has some late kick...Would be no shock.
SHOW – Oxbow...Won the Preakness Stakes at odds of 15x1 in a slow time (slowest since 1961) with a perfect trip and took advantage of Orb’s bad luck (trapped inside; slow pace; no moisture on track surface)...Most experienced starter with 11 career starts...Jockey Gary Stevens, 50, has won three Belmont Stakes, three Kentucky Derbys and three Preakness Stakes...Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has saddled a record 14 Triple Crown winners.
PLACE – Orb...The one to beat. He’s the likely post-time favorite at around 5-to-2 on his home track...Only 3 of the last 20 post-time favorites won the Belmont Stakes...Looked great winning the Kentucky Derby in the slop. It was his fifth straight victory. A tough-luck 4th in the Preakness as the big favorite. Broke from the No. 1 post position and was stuck inside chasing a slow pace and found room and his best stride too late...Would move up on a wet track.
WIN – Revolutionary...Consistent sort (7 starts: 3 wins, 1 second, 3 thirds)...Won the Grade 3 Withers and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby...Closed from 17th to finish 3rd in the Kentucky Derby as the No. 2 betting choice...The best of trainer Todd Pletcher’s five entries in Saturday’s race...He decided to skip the Preakness and point to the Belmont Stakes...Bred to get the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes distance...Should be right there at the finish at slighter longer odds than Orb and Oxbow...Javier Castellano replaces Calvin Borel as jockey. I prefer Castellano...Another favorable trend: Of the last 20 Belmont Stakes winners, only four won the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.
CRUNCH NEED FOUR WINS FOR FIRST CALDER CUP
The Syracuse Crunch host the Grand Rapids Griffins Saturday night in Game 1 of the best-of-seven AHL Calder Cup Finals.
The Crunch have been superb in the playoffs. They’re 11-1 and have outscored opponents 48-23 (+25).
Syracuse is 6-1 at home and 5-0 on the road.
Syracuse never has won the Calder Cup. Grand Rapids hasn’t either.
Twenty-five cities have won the Calder Cup at least once. Here they are:
Hershey (11 times)...Cleveland (9)...Springfield (7)...Rochester (6)...Buffalo (5)...Providence (5)...Glens Falls (4)...Portland, Me. (4)...Halifax (3)...Pittsburgh (3)...Chicago (2)...Indianapolis (2), Philadelphia (2)...Albany (1)...Binghamton (1)...Cape Breton (1)...Cincinnati (1)...Hamilton (1)...Hartford (1)...Houston (1)...Milwaukee (1)...Moncton (1)...Norfolk (1)...Saint John (1)...Sherbrooke (1).
Some Rochester AHL fans might be surprised if the Crunch win their first Calder Cup this month. The Amerks were 7-3 versus Syracuse in the 2012-13 regular season.
BUXTON, SANO LEAD TEAMS TO CUMULATIVE 77-37 START
Future (I hope) Rochester Red Wings star center fielder Byron Buxton had a tremendous game Wednesday. He was 5x6 with two triples as his Cedar Rapids Kernels crushed visiting Quad Cities (singe-A Midwest League). The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 June entry draft is batting .341, with 12 doubles, 7 triples, 4 HRs, 58 runs in 54 games, 41 RBI and 26x35 stolen bases.
If all goes well – cross your fingers, Rochester baseball fans, Buxton will be leading off and playing center field and Miguel Sano will be playing third basses and batting cleanup for the Red Wings Opening Day 2015.
Buxton and Sano, respectively, have led Grand Rapids and the Fort Myers Miracle to terrific starts (40-17 and 37-20). Minnesota’s two full-season Single-A teams are a combined 77-37 (.675) and have outscored opponents by 182 runs (652-470).
Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack fan favorite Lisa’s Boobytrap is scheduled to continue her comeback Sunday at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., in the $100,000 Satan and Lace Stakes. The 5 ½-furlong sprint is for fillies and mares. The six-year-old mare won her only previous race this year at Finger Lakes last month. She has won $181,940 for owner/trainer Tim Snyder.
Cheers to Miami Heat superstar LeBron James for this week lauding Tim Duncan as “the most dominant player of the last 15 years.” I’m not sure Kobe Bryant fans would agree, but they shouldn’t laugh.
Connecticut has approved mixed-martial arts (including the wildly popular UFC). That means 49 states and all of Canada have given the green light to the sport. The only holdout is New York state. Why? Ask Sheldon Silver. I bet he won’t tell you the truth. It would be too embarrassing. This another reason why Albany often seems like a political cesspool. There is plenty of support for MMA among the masses and politicians in Albany. How does Silver get away with this without a legitimate explanation?
A suddenly punchless power play is a big reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins trail the Boston Bruins 3-0 entering Friday night’s Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals. The Penguins were 13x46 on the power play entering this series and are 0x12 vs. the Bruins.
The Rochester RazorsSharks plan to move to the Dome Arena in Henrietta next basketball season. Bill Flynn has recorded the dominance of the Razorsharks at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial in the team’s eight-year history (entering Sunday afternoon’s possible final game of the playoffs: 100-12 record (.893)...48 wins in a row (11/25/2005 to 1/10/2009)...Longest losing streak was 2 games...115.8-point average...13-0 record vs. the Maryland Nighthawks...Most points in a game: 176-96 over Chicago 3/28/2009)...Fewest points in a game: 89 in an 89-88 victory over Buffalo in the franchise’s very first game 11/25/2005).
I just learned of the demise of Pro Football Weekly. I’ve been buying the weekly newspaper off-and-on (mainly on) for around 20 years. The publication began in 1967 and is another victim of the internet. There will be a Pro Football Weekly NFL Preview 2013 on newsstands June 11. Sadly, it will be a souvenir edition.
Former Finger Lakes jockey, trainer and owner Michele Harris died Tuesday of cancer at age 62. She was easily the best female jockey to campaign regularly at The Thumb. She was a better rider than most of the men at the time. She was entrusted to ride such quality horses as Jack Betta Be Rite and Mercedes Won.
The NFL competition committee has recommended making visors mandatory for all players entering the league. Why not?
Odds on interesting upcoming boxing matches: IBF light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins (bet $600 to win $100) vs. Karo Murat (bet $100 to win $450) July 13...WBC light-middleweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. (bet $250 to win $100). Vs. Saul Alvarez (bet $100 to win $200) Sept. 14.
Minnesota’s first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in Wednesday night’s Major League Baseball entry draft was right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart of St. Puis High School in Houston. He is expected to pass up college tin favor of signing with the Twins. He’ll immediately become Minnesota’s top pitching prospect. The farm system is getting stronger and stronger at the Class-A level.
LEBRON AND PLAYING IN MIAMI SHOULD BE TOO MUCH FOR PACERS
ANOTHER POSITIVE SPIN ON THE BILLS
RENAME FINGER LAKES “ENGLEHART DOWNS”?
BASEBALL: WHO IS HOT AND WHO IS COLD?
It might not entirely be fair, but Monday night‘s Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals will be a defining game in LeBron James’ career.
I’m in the camp of those who believe that LeBron is the all-time most-physically-gifted basketball player and arguably the all-time best all-around player.
I don’t think there has been a basketball player who can do so many things so well. Not even Michael Jordan.
I’ve been arguing that no team in the current NBA is capable of beating James and his Miami Heat in a best-of-seven series. The Indiana Pacers have a fair chance to do it Monday night.
The best things the Heat have going for them are LeBron James and the home-court advantage.
Two things Miami apparently doesn’t have going for it are slumping Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Both are playing far below their capabilities. Wade at least has an excuse. He’s obviously hurting. Bosh has been just plain lousy in this series. Pacers center Roy Hibbert is taking him to school.
In hindsight, Bosh should’ve stayed in Toronto, where he might have been a future National Basketball Hall of Famer. A big fish in a small pond would’ve been better than a minnow in Miami.
The Big Three now is the Big 2 – James 1 + Wade ½ + Bosh ½. Wade says he and Bosh need to be more assertive and get more touches Monday night. The way they’ve performed of late, I don’t know if that would be good or bad.
The Pacers have been able to focus on stopping James because Wade and Bosh haven’t been effective. Miami’s complementary players – solid until this series – haven’t stepped up.
Miami is favored by a surprisingly generous 7 ½ points Monday night. Here are a few reasons I believe Miami will win and advance to the NBA Finals against San Antonio:
The Heat played probably their worst game of the season in Saturday night’s 91-77 loss at Indiana. They have to be better Monday night.
Wade and Bosh have a lot to prove and the talent to give James the support he needs.
I never thought I’d be writing this, but the return of forward Chris “Birdman” Andersen from a one-game suspension is a huge plus. He relishes playing the hard-nosed style the Pacers are thriving on. At the very least, he’s six fouls to give in what figures to be a rough game.
Miami’s players have more experience in huge games like this one.
The home-court advantage is huge. Miami is 43-6 at home this season (including 6-2 in the playoffs) and Indiana is 22-27 on the road (including 3-6 in the playoffs).
I’m not suggesting that the zebras will be influenced by the Miami crowd or the league office (San Antonio vs. Indiana in the Finals probably would be a ratings disaster) but...I don’t envy the zebras in this game. It is an extremely difficult assignment.
Miami’s Big Three has the added incentive of knowing this could be their last chance to win the championship. They’ll all be eligible for free agency after next season. James returning to Cleveland is looking more and more logical. He’s be the returning regional hero and he’d have one of the NBA’s best young backcourts (Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters) on his side.
No matter what happens, the Pacers could be favored over Miami to win the conference title next season. The emergence of Hibbert and Paul George, coupled with the expected return of scoring machine Danny Granger (missed all but five games this season with a bad knee), would make Indiana the team of the near future.
My pick for Monday night: Miami 85, Indiana 81.
ANOTHER POSITIVE SPIN ON THE 2013 BUFFALO BILLS
This one from Sports Illustrated.cnn.com.: “Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but so much of the Bills’ hopes are tied up in not getting beat by their own quarterback. If rookie EJ Manuel can follow the trend set by most other first-round passers since 2008, delivering more than expected early, Buffalo has the skill-position talent and potential on defense to be a surprise wild-card contender in the AFC.
“But if Manuel isn’t ready and Kevin Kolb resembles an injury-prone version of Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’ll probably be more of the same misery and mediocrity that Buffalo fans have known since Doug Flutie took his cereal box and went home. The Bills have been an early season tease more than once recently, but with three home games in September, there’s fodder for another fast start and maybe some mojo-building under new head coach Doug Marrone.”
Gary Myers of the Daily News wasn’t as kind Sunday on Buffalo in his list of teams with unstable quarterback situations: “They dumped Ryan Fitzpatrick and signed Kevin Kolb, which is just about an even exchange talent-wise. Kolb is always hurt. And when he’s not, he stinks. The Bills traded down for EJ Manuel as the first QB off the board in this year’s draft, the 16th overall pick. He’s running third team in the OTAs behind Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, but that means little right now. It won’t be long before Manuel starts.”
ENGLEHART AND DAVILA DOMINANT AT FINGER LAKES
If trainer Chris Englehart and jockey John Davila Jr.,continue to dominate at Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack this thoroughbred racing season, maybe the track should be renamed Englehart/Davila Downs.
Englehart has won 12 trainer titles at Finger Lakes – including the last 10 in a row. Davila is a 12-time jockey champion at The Thumb.
They’ve never been more dominant than they’ve been so far this season.
Englehart is a hard-working trainer and does a great job spotting his horses in races they can win. Of course, it helps to have a loaded stable. Englehart has connections with trainers on the NYRA circuit (Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga). When horses on that major circuit are hurting or need a confidence boost, many of their trainers turn to Englehart to saddle their horses at Finger Lakes.
More often than not, Englehart’s horses outclass the opposition. Few of his horses change hands in claiming races because other trainers at Finger Lakes don’t want to risk claiming horses that might be less than 100 percent sound. There also aren’t many other trainers that have the funds to regularly claim Englehart’s horses.
Davila rides first call for Englehart. He’s closing in on 50 years old but he’s in terrific shape and has made a good living riding full-time at Finger Lakes – mainly for Englehart.
The Englehart/Davila connection isn’t the best thing for racing fans at Finger Lakes. Englehart’s horses usually go off the favorites and win at a remarkable rate – with very low payoffs.
Englehart’s son, Jeremiah, is following in his dad’s horseshoes. Entering Monday, father/son Englehart were 1-2 in the trainer standings:
Chris Englehart – 93 starters...35 wins...29 seconds...16 thirds...earnings $433,643
Jeremiah Englehart – 58 starters...21 wins...9 seconds...8 thirds...earnings $246,260.
Davila’s numbers are even more awesome. He entered Monday with 88 starts: 30 wins, 27 seconds and 19 thirds. He’s won 34.1 percent of his rides and finished in the money (first, second and third) an unheard of 86.4 percent of the time.
UNLIMITED BUDGET+NAPRAVNIK COULD MAKE BELMONT HISTORY
The filly Unlimited Budget is expected to run in Saturday’s 145th Belmont Stakes. Her rider would be Rosie Napravvnik. A lot of female fans would support that combination at the mutual windows.
Only three fillies have won the Belmont Stakes: Ruthless in 1867 (the first Belmont Stakes), Tanya in 1905 and Rags to Riches in 2007.
How tough is the three-race Triple Crown grind on 3-year-old horses?
As it looks now, only three horses will run in this year’s Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes – Derby winner Orb, Preakness-winner Oxbow and Will Take Charge (8th in the Derby and 7th in the Preakness). Over the past 20 years, only 39 horses ran in all three Triple Crown races. None won the Triple Crown...In the past seven years (2006 through 2012), three different horses won the three Triple Crown races five times. I believe Saturday will make it three different winners six of the last eight years.
BASEBALL: WHO’S HOT AND WHO’S NOT
Former Rochester Red Wings had productive games on Sunday:
Garrett Jones (Pittsburgh) joined Daryle Ward (2002) as the only Pirates to hit a home run into the Allegheny River on the fly. It was measured at 463 feet.
Grant Balfour (Oakland) has converted 31 straight save opportunities over the last two seasons.
Michael Cuddyer (Colorado) hit a home run and is batting .346.
Chris Herrman (Minnesota), just recalled by the Twins from Rochester, was 2x3 with his first MLB home run.
Baltimore pinch-hitters were 1x18 this season before Danny Valencia’s RBI-single.
Other hot and cold teams and players:
Tampa Bay is 7-1 in its last 8 games...Minnesota is 7-2 since a 10-game losing streak...Top prospect infielder Jurickson Profar (Texas) is hitting .324 with 2 HRs in his first 10 games...Houston has won a season-high five straight games...Oakland has won 8 straight home games and is 9-2 in its last 11 games...Pittsburgh’s bullpen has a MLB-best 2.67 ERA...Atlanta is 15-6 vs. the NL East (including 7-3 vs. Washington)...Patrick Corbin (Arizona) is the first MLB pitcher to reach 9 victories this season and the Diamondbacks are 11-0 in his starts...Dominic Brown (Philadelphia) had an interesting batting line for May: .303 batting average (33x109), 12 HRs, 25 RBI, 0 walks, 21 strikeouts...Chris Davis (Baltimore) since May 17: .453 batting average (29x64), 9 HRs, 15 RBI.
Drew Stubbs (Cleveland) is in a 0x16 slump...The Angels are 3-6 vs. Houston this season...The White Sox have a season-worst six-game losing streak and are 6 games under .500 (24-30) for the first time this season...The Mets were swept in a three-game series (outscored 24-8) at Miami...Washington is 28-29 and below .500 for the first time since 13-14 on April 30...Jason Hayward (Atlanta) had three strikeouts in three at-bats Sunday and his batting average is down to .142.
Rochester’s Ryan Callahan more than earned his “C” as captain of the New York Rangers this season. It was revealed last week that Callahan played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder since late January. He also led NHL forwards with 66 blocked shots. That’s called setting an example for his teammates. He had 16 goals and 15 assists.
Maybe Rochester sports historians will recall 2013 as a blip on the soccer screen for the struggling Rhinos. Or maybe it will be the finish of this city’s longest pro soccer run. What do you think? I do know we no longer deserve the tag Soccer City USA.
Entering this week’s Wegmans LPGA Championship, four countries have supplied the winners of the 10 LPGA Tour events this year: South Korea 5 (Inbee Park 4, Jiyai Shin 1, Ilhee Lee 1...USA 4 (Stacy Lewis 2, Cristie Kerr 1, Jennifer Johnson 1...Australia 1 (Karrie Webb 1)...Norway 1 (Suzann Pettersen 1)...Spain ( Beatriz Recari 1).
I got a kick out of the local sportscaster who described the Rochester RazorSharks as the best minor-league basketball team. How does he know? The Sharks have a classy organization and have dominated inferior competition since the franchise began. However, the best current minor-league basketball league by far is the NBA Development League and the Rochester’s best minor-league basketball team was Mauro Panaggio’s Zeniths of the Continental Basketball Association.
They were nearly as dominant as the Sharks in a much tougher league...I’d love to see the Sharks play a top-10 Division I college team. I don’t think they’d be embarrassed.
FROM THE BOREIOLES TO THE BIRDERERS’ ROW
MORE ACCOLADES FOR LEBRON JAMES
HOW THE FOUR NHL SEMIFINALSTS MEASURE UP
BILLS 50x1 TO WIN AFC
The Best-hitting team in baseball is...
The Detroit Tigers?
The St. Louis Cardinals?
The Boston Red Sox?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
The Baltimore Orioles are my choice as baseball’s best-hitting team. I’m even going to give their lineup a nickname – The Birderers’ Row (a takeoff on the New York Yankees “Murderers’ Row in the late 1920s).
No team has had worse luck and more disappointments in terms of promising pitchers in recent years than Baltimore. At least a half-dozen “can’t miss” arms were damaged – mostly before they reached the majors. The latest cause for concern is 20-year-old Dylan Bundy, who has an elbow problem and has yet to pitch this season.
If Baltimore’s young pitching prospects had all delivered, the Orioles probably would be one of the very-best teams in baseball today.
There certainly is nothing wrong with the offense. Check out this lineup:
1-Nate McLouth LF -- .304, 4 HRs, 11 RBI, 17 stolen bases
2-Manny Machado 3B -- .336, 25 doubles (honest), 2 triples, 5 HRs, 30 RBI
3-Nick Markakis RF -- .307, 12 doubles, 6 triples, 6 HRs, 32 RBI
4-Adam Jones CF -- .311, 17 doubles, 10 HRs, 35 RBI, 8 stolen bases
5-Chris Davis 1B -- .353, 18 doubles, 19 HRs, 50 RBI
6-Matt Wieters C -- .249, 13 doubles, 7 HRs, 31 RBI...he’s a better hitter than those numbers suggest
7-Steve Pearce DH -- .219, 3 HRs, 9 RBI...I’m sure the O’s wish they had better...Nolan Reimold (on the DL) could be the long-term solution
7--J.J. Hardy SS -- .242, 10 HRs, 32 RBI
8—Ryan Flaherty/Alexi Casilla 2B...The weak link...The O’s are hoping Brian Roberts (hamstring) will ber back soon. He’s 35 and injury-prone, but he still can hit and get on base.
Entering Friday night, the 30-24 Orioles ranked 1st in the majors in home runs (75), slugging percentage (.464), OPS (.795) on-base percentage+slugging percentage, doubles (122) and total bases (879).
They ranked 2nd in runs to Boston (274 to 273) but had played one fewer game than the Red Sox.
If Baltimore doesn’t have the best and most versatile 2-3-4-5 stretch of hitters in a lineup in the majors today, I’m taking nominations for another one.
Two more plusses for Baltimore’s offense: The key players are young and should only improve (Machada is 20, Jones and Davis are 27, and Markakis is 29. Wieters is 29 and Hardy is 30; and Oriole Partk at Camden Yards is one of most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball.
Unfortunately, Baltimore’s hitting isn’t nearly as impressive as the team’s hitting. The Orioles entered Friday with a 4.44 ERA, 12th in the 15-team American League. The starting rotation (Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yen Chen (currently on DL) and – for now – Freddy Garcia and Kevin Gausman scares no one (except maybe O’s fans). Jim Johnson has put up good numbers in the past but is not the overpowering closer most teams prefer.
Baltimore also can field. The Orioles have only 19 errors this season, tied with St. Louis for the fewest in the majors.
Another reason it took me until now to respect the Orioles as a legitimate playoff contender is their record in one-run games (8-7) and extra-innings (4-3) so far this season. I thought last season’s 93-69 overall record was a bit of a fluke because of their unworldly marks in one-run (29-9) and extra-inning (16-2) games.
Those things tend to even out the following season – and they have – but Baltimore still has a so0lid record.
The bottom line: I believe the Orioles a 30 percent chance to win the AL East and a 60 percent chance to make the playoffs.
LEBRON JAMES THE RIGHT PICK FOR THE 2012 HICKOK BELT
Miami Hear superstar LeBron James on Thursday was announced as the overall winner of the 2012 Hickok Belt. The revived award goes to the best pro athlete as determined by as panel from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
James was the obvious choice. He’s been easily the best overall player in the wildly popular NBA for the last few years. His performance in the third quarter of Thursday night’s game at Indiana was typical. The Heat trailed 46-40 shortly after halftime in the pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Then James took over – as he so often does in his man-against-boys world. Miami outscored Indiana 30-010 in the next 11 minutes, with LeBron either scoring or setting up 25 of those points.
Teammates Dwyane Wade (10) and Chris Bosh (7) combined for 17 points. James had 30 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. If these guys are the BIG THREE, James is 2, Wade is 2/3and Bosh is 1/3.
HOW THE FOUR STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALISTS MEASURE UP
I’m hoping for a Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals matchup. A few reasons why:
They’ve been the NHL’s two-best teams all of this season
The Blackhawks have my favorite uniform in the NFL (tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for No. 1 overall)
It would be a classic showdown between Pittsburgh’s power play (28.3 percent in the playoffs) vs. Chicago’s penalty killing (97.6 percent, 40x41) in the playoffs.
It’s always good to see the best current hockey player – Sidney Crosby.
Here’s how the four survivors in the Stanley Cup tournament measure up in the playoffs entering Saturday’s semifinal openers (LA Kings at Chicago and Boston at Pittsburgh):
Goals per game – Pittsburgh 4.27...Boston 3.17...Chicago 2.75...Los Angeles 2.00
Fewest goals allowed per game – Los Angeles 1.54...Chicago 1.83...Boston 2.33...Pittsburgh 2.55
Goal differential per game – Pittsburgh +1.73...Chicago +0.92...Boston +0.83...Los Angeles +0.46
Power play percentage – Pittsburgh 28.3 (13x46)...Boston 21.9 (7x32)...Los Angeles 20.0 (7x35)...Chicago 16.2 (6x37)
Penalty-killing percentage – Chicago 97.6 (40x41)...Pittsburgh 89.7 (35x37)...Los Angeles 86.0 (37x43)...Boston 81.1 (30x37).
COLABELLO TOP CANDIDATE FOR IL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
With two months in the books, Rochester Red Wings slugging first baseman Chris Colabello is among the frontrunners for International League’s 2013 Rookie of the Year.
Since the IL Rookie of the Year award began in 1950, Rochester has had by far the most winners: Red Wings 16, Columbus, Richmond and Syracuse 6 each; Tidewater/Norfolk 4.
Here’s the parade of Rochester’s IL Rookies of the Year: Ray Jablonski (1952), Jackie Brandt (1955), Charlie James (1959), Mike Epstein (1966), Curt Motton (1967), Merv Rettenmund (1958), Roger Freed (1970), Al Bumbry (1972), Rich Dauer (1976), Bobby Bonner (1980), Cal Ripken Jr. (1981), Steve Finley (1988), Luis Mercedes (1991), Jason Kubel (2004), Francisco Liriano (2005), Randy Ruiz (2008).
BILLS 50x1 TO REPRESENT AFC IN SUPER BOWL 48
Here are the latest odds on winning the 2013 NFC and AFC titles (courtesy of Bovada.lv):
NFC – 49ers 15-to-4 (bet $4 to win $15)...Seahawks 9x2...Packers
13x2...Falcons 15x2...Saints 10x1...Giants 12x1...Bears 16x1...Cowboys
16x1...Eagles 18x1...Redskins 18x1...Vikings 20x1...Lions
28x1...Buccaneers 28x12...Rams 30x1...Panthers 33x1...Cardinals 66x1
AFC – Broncos 11x4 (bet $4 to win $11)...Patriots 3x1...Texans
6x1...Ravens 10x1...Steelers 11x1...Bengals 15x1...Colts
18x1...Dolphins 18x1...Chargers 20x1...Chiefs 25x1...Browns 40x1...Jets 40x1...Bills 50x1 (shouldn’t be rated behind Jets and/or Browns, should they?)...Titans 50x1...Raiders 66x1...Jaguars 75x1.
THUMBS DOWN TO RHINOS
I thought the Rochester Rhinos made a bush-league move Tuesday night by not starting No. 1 goalie Kristian Nicht in the U .S. Open Cup game against the New England Revolution. Coach Pat Ercoli explained after the game that he didn’t want to risk embarrassing Nicht with such an injured-riddled team in front of him. Ercoli also said it was more important to save players for the rest of the regular season than go all out in against the Revs.
OK, I’ll cut Ercoli some slack on both counts. I see his point. But he should have told the media what he was going to do BEFORE the match. That way the team’s loyal followers would have been prepared to see the team make a U.S. Open Cup match No. 2 on the priority scale and not have been surprised when Nicht didn’t start.
Can things get any lower for this once-proud franchise?