Tag Archive | Washington

My Favorite Player

On February 15, 2006, I was on February break. I was a sixth grader on the cusp of puberty. I was just getting over the Patriots losing in the postseason to Denver and  Spring Training for the Red Sox hadn’t started yet. I wasn’t yet a hockey fan and I was just starting to like basketball in a big way. UConn was good, but not great that year, and Georgetown, my mom’s alma mater hadn’t captured my attention yet. I was aware of the NBA’s existence but wasn’t a big fan. The night of the 15th, though, that all changed. I watched the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers play. It was a classic game that took 2 overtimes to finish. Cleveland won behind a 43 point triple double by phenom LeBron James. My eyes were glued to the guy wearing 34 for the Celtics giving James the business all night. After a 50 point game against the most hyped player of the day, Paul Anthony Pierce became my favorite basketball player, and eventually, my favorite athlete. 

I watched the Celtics through the abysmal 2006-2007 season, got excited when Paul got help from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and celebrated when they won the Celtics’ 17th championship. I followed the team intensely ever since. I watched Glenn Davis hit a game winner in Orlando in 2009, KG and Rondo end the Cavs chances in 2010, and watched the Lakers break my heart the next year. I saw Pierce hit a three in LeBron’s face in 2012’s Conference Finals, and watched the Celtics bow out against the New York Knicks in the 2013 playoffs. 

Once that postseason hit, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded out of Boston to Brooklyn. I was crestfallen, but I would still follow the Celtics through the rebuild, seeing my first ever Celtics game in February 2014, with no Pierce. I watched the Nets and rooted for my guys in the playoffs that year, loving Pierce’s block on Kyle Lowry, and being bitter with LeBron James and the Miami heat for beating my heroes again. 

Pierce left Brooklyn and joined the Washington Wizards for the 2015 season. I liked the fit. He provided veteran leadership for a young team that was trying to learn how to win. He helped them to a playoff sweep over the Raptors and authored maybe his best playoff moment against Atlanta. In Game 3 of the Conference Semi-Finals, Washington lost a big lead and were tied with the Hawks late in the 4th. In the last seconds, Bradley Beal took the inbound and passed it to Pierce at the left elbow. Pierce called for Beal to clear out, dribbled, waited for the clock to wind down, put up a shot over two players, and banked in the game winning shot. In the frenzy afterward, he was interviewed by Chris Broussard. To end the interview, Broussard asked “Did you call bank?” Pierce answered “I called Game!” and he walked off to hype the crowd more and go to the locker room. 

That play against the Hawks shows exactly why Paul Pierce is my favorite player of all time. He stayed confident through the toughest moments, always giving his team the confidence that they could win the game. He swaggered his way into big time shot after big time shot, on the basis of the ugliest game a superstar has ever played. 

He didn’t have a pretty shot. He wasn’t smooth. Pierce played a brawny, brawly, physical style of game. Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and LeBron James all played much more aesthetically pleasing games. Garnett was smooth, Dirk’s shot was beautiful, and LeBron’s athleticism was undeniably magnificent. Paul could spin in the post and be effective, but he was not smooth. Pierce had a good shot, but not a pretty one. And Pierce could throw down, but he was not the dominating athlete LeBron is. Instead, Pierce could switch speeds well with quick dribbles and a smart shot. Pierce played a grounded and effective game that depended upon old school confidence. He never wavered with the Celtics and he carried them through hard times. He lived through being stabbed in 2000 to become one of the most respected players of the decade. He represented the old school heart with a dash of modern flash and flair for the dramatic. And he did all of this while brazenly facing off against the best players of the day and being undervalued and underappreciated. He was a model of consistent confidence and he never wavered as an old school player in the modern day. I love that old school mindset that Pierce walked into the league with. 

Despite my admiration for him, I had never seen Pierce play in person in a regular season game. I saw the Celtics played a preseason game at the XL Center before the 2009-10 season, but that was just a preseason game. The first regular season Celtics game I ever went to was the February 12th game of the 2014 season against the Spurs, after Pierce had been traded. I wanted to see him when the Wizards were in town, but I never had the chance. Before the 2016 season, he signed with the LA Clippers. Before this season, he announced that it would be his last. When I saw the Celtics schedule, I made it a point to go to the February 5th game against the Clippers, which would be (in all likelihood) Pierce’s last game in the Gahden. 

When I bought the tickets and got in, I had an odd feeling I had only felt once before, at David Ortiz’s last game ever. I felt nostalgic, almost longing for more time to watch my favorite player in his prime, winning games and making the crowd go crazy. I cried when Pierce checked out, was tributes with a video from the Celtics, and received a standing ovation from the crowd that stopped the game. I yelled with everyone else in the 4th quarter when we wanted Pierce to come back in. And I cheered when Pierce hit a 3 pointer in the final seconds. It was a perfect goodbye to a legend, and a memory that I will hold personally forever. 

Thank you Paul Pierce for representing Boston well. You are an all time Celtic, and my favorite athlete of all time. We’ll see you in Springfield for your Hall of Fame induction in 5 years! 

Division Series Previews and Predictions

After two outstanding Wild Card games over the last few days, the Baseball Postseason is ready to get started tonight! We have eight teams starting the division series in both the American and National League over the next two days, and this is when the best baseball is played. Let’s take a look at each series and see what I think will happen! And for the record, I’m not going to predict more than just the Division Series. We’ll start with the American League. 

Toronto Blue Jays vs Texas Rangers- Rangers in 5

This is the series I look at with the most excitement. After last year’s matchup between these two teams, capped by this Jose Bautista homer and bat flip, and the bad blood spilling over into a regular season match early this year, I am excited for this matchup! There is bad blood, animosity, and something that baseball has missed for a long time: menace. There’s a sense of competition that the sport desperately needs in the postseason, and I am excited for that. There also are talented baseball players on both teams, so we should get good play in addition to the competition. Both teams have strong lineups, good to well above average starting rotations, and shakey bullpens so I see that as a close matchup.

The Blue Jays lineup can make minced meat out of the best pitching in baseball. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitski are all able to hit homers off any pitcher in any ballpark, let alone band boxes in Texas and Toronto that will lead to more offense. Their defense is also capable, with the fifth best fielding percentage in the AL. Russell Martin is an underrated defensive catcher, and their starting rotation is talented, if a bit unproven. They have the AL’s ERA leader in Aaron Sanchez, who is coming off a masterful performance in Fenway Park against the best offense in baseball, in which he held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings. Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and JA Happ are also talented pitchers who will hold their own. Toronto’s weakness comes in the form of their bullpen. They have only a 4.40 ERA and despite holding the Orioles offense to only 2 runs in the wild card game, there is no clear closer or obvious stopper in the Jays bullpen. Roberto Osuna is questionable for game 1, and that will mess with the bullpen big time. 

Texas can match the Canadian offense. Adrian Beltre continues to make a Hall of Fame case for himself after a .300, 30 homer, 104 RBI season at 37 years old. Elvis Andrus hit .302, Rougned Odor provides some punch (no pun intended), and Ian Desmond is a capable all around hitter. After Prince Fielder retired, the Rangers picked up Carlos Beltran, a playoff tested future Hall of Famer to bolster the offense, and he has done just that. Unfortunately, the defense is only pedestrian, with the 9th best defense in the American League. Their starting rotation on paper is also only pedestrian without the names of the pitchers being considered. Cole Hammels and Yu Darvish are talented pitchers with huge name recognition, but age, attrition, and injury have slowed them down. Hammels has the lowest ERA on the team at 3.32, and Darvish is just getting back to full strength after Tommy John surgery, pitching in only 17 games this season. But these guys, along with Colby Lewis and Derek Holland, are skilled players with postseason experience that will show up against Toronto. The reason I’m picking Texas in this series is the bullpen. The teams are even in all positions except the closer. Osuna isn’t ready to play this series right now, while Sam Dyson (2.43 ERA, 38 saves) is ready to go for Texas. I think the Rangers have a slightly better bullpen and will scrape by the Blue Jays in 5. 

Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians- Red Sox in 4

As a Red Sox fan, after the last week of the season, I am quite nervous for this series. I don’t have a ton of faith in the Red Sox bullpen and I don’t want to face Terry Francona’s team giving up home field advantage. That all being said, I’ll put my fandom and fears aside and try to be objective about this series. 

Boston comes in with the best offense in baseball. Mookie Bette, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz all have cases to be MVP this season, while Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Hanley Ramirez all provide stronger bats than most can offer. Cleveland is no slouch offensively, but they lack the diversity of weapons that Boston has. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are the two .300 hitters on the team, and Mike Napoli has given a spark of power, but the Indian’s offense is ultimately a far cry from what Boston can bring. 

Boston also carries a talented pitching staff. Rick Porcello is a viable Cy Young candidate, and David Price picked up his play later in the year. Clay Buccholz and Eduardo Rodriguez are wild cards but if they come up strong, they can put Boston over the top. The rotation is shortened after the absurdly stupid decision to have All Star Steven Wright run the bases in Los Angeles on August 5th which resulted in his shoulder injury. He could return to the team for the ALCS, but he can’t help the team against Cleveland. The Indians carry a pitching stud in Corey Kluber, but he is injured and so is the rest of the starting rotation. Kluber is starting game 2 after a late season quad injury, and game 1 starter Trevor Bauer isn’t a pitching ace. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are also injured, and will not play in the series. Cleveland’s starting rotation is not in good shape. The bullpens are more comparable, but the injured Indians starting rotation will be their downfall. Kluber will win his start in Cleveland, but Boston’s offensive depth will take on the rotation and win the series in four games. 

Now onto the National League. 

Chicago Cubs vs San Francisco Giants, Cubs in 5

By leaps and bounds, this is the hardest series for me to predict. On one hand, the Chicago Cubs are the most talented team in baseball, have the NL MVP in Kris Bryant, one of the best pitchers in Jake Arrieta, a bevy of young talent, championship veteran guile in players like Jon Lester, John Lackey, and David Ross. On the other hand, it’s the Cubs. This is the most cursed team in baseball facing the team that turns into a golden team in even year Octobers, the San Francisco Giants. More so than the stigma of “It’s the Cubs”, these teams match up extremely well. 

Chicago clearly has the better lineup from top to bottom, but the Giants still have weapons in Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Crawford. They don’t have the power of the Cubs, but they can make the Cubs rotation work and throw a ton of pitches. The real matchup is in the starting rotations. Madison Bumbgarner, the best postseason pitcher throwing right now, won’t start until game 3, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are capable pitchers and can make life difficult for Chicago. The Cubs will have to face a difficult rotation, and Chicago’s bullpen will have to hold up better than the Mets’ bullpen did last night. With Aroldis Chapman in the closers spot, they can shut down the Giants in the 9th. If the Cubs are to win, the Cubs MUST win both games 1 and 2 in Chicago and the bullpen must be better than the Giants. 

I see this series as a toss up. The Giants have a winning culture and attitude that the Cubs have not proven to have and they have the pieces to take down the Cubs. The Cubs have talent and the burden of expectation from baseball fans and the longest suffering fan base in all of sports. If the Cubs are to win a championship, they must win games 1 and 2 at home. 

Washington Nationals vs Los Angeles Dodgers- Nationals in 4

This series is simultaneously interesting and boring for me. These teams are talented and Fun to watch in the regular season. However, they are horribly disappointing in the postseason. The Dodgers were supposed to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 NLCS and 2014 NLDS, the Mets in the 2015 NLDS behind the performance of Clayton Keyshawn, Justin Turner, Yasiel Paige, and others, but lost every single series, never reaching their postseason potential. The Nationals are just as disappointing, with a lost championship in 2014 and missing the playoffs last year. I expect both teams to eventually fold, if not in this series then later in the month. But I will still watch and see which of these “Next Year’s Champions” will continue to tease their fans. 

Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, and Corey Seager lead a potent lineup against the Nationals and Howie Kendrick, Josh Reddick, and Yasiel Puig look to improve on disappointing regular seasons and help the team get a boost. For DC, Daniel Murphy takes his .347 average into the postseason with the intent of another trip to the Fall Classic. Wilson Ramos also hit .300 and is the other well performing hitter for DC. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, two long standing DC hitters, had very disappointing seasons and look to step up in October. Harper’s season was especially disappointing. The reigning NL MVP went from hitting .330 to only .243 this season and he struggled to get into any kind of rhythm this season. If anything, the fact that Washington won 95 games this season with Harper performing so poorly is reason for more confidence. Imagine how well they’d play if Harper picked up his average.

These starting rotations are both top heavy. Clayton Keyshawn and Max Scherzer are the undisputed aces, but the rotations beyond those two are a little short. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strausburg both have talent but have been inconsistent this year in the nation’s capitol. Kenta Madea and Scott Kazmir have some good innings in them, but they are secondary to Kershaw and not quite ace level. The Dodgers have a decided advantage in their bullpen. Washington released their closer, Jonathan Paplebon, before the signing deadline in the middle of the season, and have given Shawn Kelly the closing job. He and the rest of the Nationals Bullpen has plenty to prove. LA has a bona fide closer in Kelley Jansen, sporting a 1.83 ERA and 47 Saves. The rest of the bullpen is more dependable as welll. However, because of slightly better pitching, and the potential for Bryce Harper to break loose, I’m picking Washington to win the series. 

So there are my predictions. Onto the playoffs!