Bruins in good position for playoffs
Maybe it’s just the inner puritanical, cynical, New England sports fan that’s in most of us, but it seems to me the Boston Red Sox brass may actually not have thought of everything in the offseason.
While Sox general manager Theo Epstein and the front office were retooling and renovating the Sox offense, defense and starting pitching to emphasize pitching and defense and become better suited to win low-scoring, one- and two-run games, one key area was overlooked: The bullpen.
ä Ramon Ramirez is still, for the most part, a bust. Yes, his ERA was a respectable 2.84 last year with opposing batters hitting .233 against him, but yielded 61 hits in 69 innings. That’s fine if you’re a starter, but when you’re entering a game with runners already on base most of the time, that’s not nearly good enough. This year? Abysmal seems a charitable description of him after giving up five hits and five earned runs in 1¤ innings.
ä Manny Delcarmen is still waiting, as are Sox fans, for his head to get in synch with his talented arm. Sure, he’s off to a decent start with no runs and one hit allowed in three innings, but how long should they keep waiting for this guy? Two years ago, spring training camp was abuzz with his new, chiseled physique and different approach after a rigorous offseason training regimen. He then went 1-2 with a 3.27 ERA. Not bad, but not great. Last year, was unsatisfactory as he yielded 64 hits in 59ª innings while going 5-2 with no saves in three chances and a 4.53 ERA.
• Scott Atchison still has the jury out, but one run and a hit in two innings isn’t bad. Then again, compared to Ramirez, it’s All-Star status.
• Hideki Okajima is such a solid asset and consistent performer, the only question is why does Terry Francona have such a quick hook for him? Why is he used as a “bridge” reliever so much and what’s the rush to get the next situational reliever in? The guy is a solid 13-5 with six saves (in 18 chances) and a 2.72 ERA over three-plus seasons.
• Daniel Bard (0-1) is off to a good start, despite blowing a save with a 1.80 ERA. He’s 2-3 with a 3.84 ERA in 54¤ career innings.
• Jonathan Papelbon is not a stiff, but why not at least shop him after he went 1-1 with a 1.85 ERA and 38 saves in 41 chances last year? He IS a good closer, but is he the feared, lights-out closer that deserves top-tier, free-agent money? I don’t think so. And after watching him blow a game with two hits and two earned runs in 3¤ innings, I still don’t.
Yes, I’ll admit I’m still a bit peeved the Sox didn’t trade Papelbon for some young, blue chip talent, re-sign Billy Wagner and bring Daniel Bard along slowly as the co-closer with Wagner, but when your bullpen has allowed at least one run in each game so far this season, the closer is the least of Boston’s problems.
— Andrew Neff
Rask gives Bruinsa chance for success
Funny how quickly momentum changes in the sports world.
Less than a month ago, the Boston Bruins were floundering, and one of the team’s top players, Marc Savard, was taken out for the season with a concussion thanks to a vicious hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke.
When the team had the chance to extract revenge 10 nights later, it participated in the obligatory fight when Cooke stepped on the ice but otherwise showed few signs of life in a 3-0 loss to the Penguins that left Bruins fans more than frustrated.
Considered one of the favorites in the NHL’s Eastern Conference before the season began, Boston was in serious danger of not even making the playoffs.
Flash forward a month, and the Bruins are feeling good about themselves, riding a modest three-game winning streak entering postseason play.
And someone else, Atlanta Thrashers rookie Evander Kane, dealt with Cooke in a decisive manner.
As to the latter issue, Kane — named by his dad for former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield — knocked Cooke out cold with a single right hand during the teams’ regular-season finale Saturday.
Fortunately Cooke eventually skated off under his own power, but Kane had delivered a message felt around the NHL.
Meanwhile, the Bruins are poised to be more than a one-and-done entry in the playoffs, with their sixth-seeded finish earning them an opening-round series against the Buffalo Sabres.
And that’s just what coach Claude Julien’s club wanted.
Boston went 4-2 against the third-ranked Sabres during the regular season, and starting goalie Tuukka Rask is 4-1 with a 1.43 goals against average in six games against Buffalo.
Rask also is 22-12-5 against the NHL this season, and his 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage both lead the league.
Therein rests Boston’s best chance for postseason success, given the team has averaged just 2.5 goals per game this season.
Few expect Boston to master the Penguins or the Washington Capitals in the East, but with Rask between the pipes the team may be able to continue building on its late-season momentum.
And with a hot goalie, who knows how far the Bruins can go?
— Ernie Clark