Mariners beat Yanks again - Kennedy lifts M's over Yanks with bloop single in 12th

SEATTLE -- Adam Kennedy knew the cutter was coming from Mariano Rivera. He just happened to drop it in the perfect spot.
Kennedy scored pinch-runner Luis Rodriguez with a bloop single off Rivera in the bottom of the 12th inning and the Seattle Mariners won for the ninth time in 10 games with a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday night.
It was the fifth game-winning hit in Kennedy's career and kept Seattle rolling on a night that ace Felix Hernandez was knocked around early and a misplayed fly ball by Ichiro Suzuki led to extra innings.
Yet, the Mariners found another way to win as Kennedy fought off Rivera's famed cutter and dropped it in front of Curtis Granderson in center field to set off a late-night celebration.
"In that situation Adam is such a good hitter and with Mariano out there you know what is coming," Seattle designated hitter Jack Cust said. "So when he bears down I'll take [Kennedy] with the game on the line anytime."
Kennedy had little success against Rivera in the past getting just one hit in 13 at-bats against the Yankees' closer.
Seattle handed Rivera (1-1) his first loss since Sept. 11, 2010 against Texas in appearance No. 1,001 for the Yankees star. The Mariners are now in second-place in the AL West and have surged back from being seven games under .500 less than two weeks ago.
Rivera's inning started as most do, getting a broken bat grounder from Chone Figgins, before Justin Smoak blooped a single to left that Brett Gardner barely missed on a diving attempt. Cust then came up with the big blow, going the other way with a backdoor cutter that Rivera left up and dropping a double just inside the left field line. Smoak raced to third with just one out.
"He was trying to backdoor the cutter. He likes to come in with it and once he comes in he likes to freeze you away which he's done to me before," Cust said.
Rivera thought it was a good pitch, but didn't make excuses afterward.
"I made good pitches and the ball found places," Rivera said. "You can't do anything about that. I wish we were still playing."
Miguel Olivo drove in three runs for the Mariners, including a two-run double in the fourth off Yankees' starter Ivan Nova. Brendan Ryan also had an RBI single.
The attraction on this night was the chance to see Seattle ace Felix Hernandez go for a fifth straight win against the Yankees. Last year, he was 3-0 and allowed just one earned run versus New York.
That total was matched in the second inning when Robinson Cano homered. Mark Teixeira gave New York a 3-1 lead with a two-run shot in the fourth after Hernandez failed to sneak a 2-0 fastball past the Yankees' slugger.
But Hernandez was still in line to get his sixth win of the season into the seventh before Suzuki's mistake. Derek Jeter walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and Granderson eventually worked a 3-2 count as well, then hit a fastball to deep right field.
Suzuki raced back to the warning track and jumped at the wall, but misjudged the depth of Granderson's hit and didn't need to jump. Suzuki whiffed and the ball bounded back into the field, Jeter scored and Granderson raced around to third.
It stayed tied into the 12th, even though both teams had chances in the late inning and in extras.
Seattle went to closer Brandon League to begin the 10th and he started with groundouts by Granderson and Teixeira, before giving up consecutive singles by Alex Rodriguez and Cano to put runners at the corners with two outs. Russell Martin drove a 2-1 pitch to right-center field, but Suzuki was able to run it down to end the threat.
Nick Swisher singled with one out in the 11th off reliever David Pauley (4-0) who got the win for the second straight night. Swisher was replaced by pinch-runner Chris Dickerson and advanced to second when Brett Gardner hit a liner back to the mound that Pauley knocked down and threw to first in time.
Jeter then stepped in but hit a weak grounder to short to end the inning.
"It's been fun," Pauley said of Seattle's recent run. "It's been a lot of fun."
  • Four different fans, including a streaker, ran on the field in the late innings. All were tackled by security and removed from the stadium.
  • Former Mariners Edgar Martinez and John Olerud were honored as inductees to the Washington state sports hall of fame during a pregame ceremony.
  • New York's game against Minnesota that was rained out on April 6 will be made up on Monday, Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium.
Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or
distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The
Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Mavs-Heat '06 redux? Hardly, but Dirk vs. LBJ is fabulous theater

Mavericks vs. Heat is billed as a rematch of the 2006 Finals, when the Mavs choked away their best chance at a championship. Their best chance until now, that is. Only four players between both teams remain from that Dallas debacle, so these are both very different clubs.
Especially the Heat.
Dwyane Wade now has some help. Lots of it, in fact. More than any other superstar in the post-Michael Jordan era, it can be argued. But depending on how this series unfolds, LeBron James could very well face the biggest challenge of his career, a defining moment in his impressive drive to rebuild his image and remind us what an all-time talent he is: guarding Dirk Nowitzki. Crazy, right? A 6-foot-8 small forward asked to check the best shooting 7-footer in NBA history? Well, the Heat might have to get crazy to give themselves the best chance of winning this series and fulfilling their championship mandate.
James successfully clamped down on one of the most fearsome little men in the NBA in the Eastern Conference finals, transforming Derrick Rose from MVP into a fitful blur of sound, speed and fury signifying nothing more than one win in the series. James has guarded point guards before. He's also guarded shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards and some centers. If called upon to defend Dirk, it would be a unique challenge -- one that perhaps James alone is equipped to even attempt among men of a certain size in the NBA.
So I've come up with five factors that will determine the outcome of the Finals, and this little matter of Dirk vs. LeBron is by far the most interesting and could well be the most important:
1: Who defends Dirk? Chris Bosh? He'll get the bulk of the possessions, but this isn't a viable strategy for the Heat in crunch time. Udonis Haslem? For short spurts, maybe. But the way I see it, the Heat's best hope of avoiding getting Nowitzki'd will be to send their best, all-purpose defender onto the floor in the fourth quarter and let him put his 6-8, 280-pound body and buzzsaw-like defensive abilities to the ultimate test. James is Miami's only defender with the strength to move Nowitzki away from the basket and prevent him from getting the ball in the Dirk Zone to begin with. After the catch, James is again Miami's only defender with the combination of length, lateral quickness, discipline and instincts to make Nowitzki work for his shots and take a few he'd rather not.
If James is called upon -- he must to be, in my view -- and is successful in knocking Dirk out of his comfort zone, it would be one of the greatest performances in Finals history. It would go right to the top of the list, right there with Magic Johnson playing center in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals against the 76ers. Yeah, that good.
But in this scenario, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra may have to tweak the closing lineup he finally was able to unveil late in the Bulls series and put Joel Anthony on the floor to contend with Tyson Chandler. He also might have to put a point guard on the floor to guard Jason Kidd (Mario Chalmers?), because if he puts Wade on Kidd, who defends Jason Terry? Wade should get that assignment, but then what about Shawn Marion? The Mavs' closing lineup presents matchup problems at multiple positions for Miami, whose league-high defensive efficiency in clutch situations in the playoffs (69 points allowed per 100 possessions) will be put to the ultimate test by the league's most efficient offense in clutch situations in the playoffs (148 points per 100 possessions).
2: Do the Mavs have enough quickness on the wings to contain LeBron and Wade?
Chandler will help. With Kendrick Perkins no longer patrolling the paint in Boston, Chandler will represent the most fearsome rim protector James and Wade have encountered in this playoff run. The rare moments when the Celtics and Bulls had success containing James and Wade came as a result of turning them into jump shooters. Sometimes, one of them would have the nerve to trump that strategy by making difficult shots from the perimeter. But against as complete a team as Dallas, this is not a viable strategy for Miami. If Chandler can stay out of foul trouble long enough to deter James and Wade from attacking the rim, the Mavs will be well on their way to taking control of this series.
3: Which Bosh shows up?
Bosh carried the Heat in Game 3 against the Bulls, and when he has it going, it can make guarding the LeBron-Wade-Bosh triumvirate demoralizing, if not impossible. Since both teams have played at a below-average pace during the postseason, these games will be about who can gain an advantage in the halfcourt. It'll be about how well Dallas can defend pick-and-rolls and isolation plays when LeBron or Wade has the ball on the wing. Nothing could be more frustrating than keeping LeBron or Wade away from the paint in those situations, only to have him dish to an open Bosh for a money 18-footer. Dallas, however, has a more versatile mix of defenders to throw at Bosh, who will find the ball in his hands at important moments again and again in this series.
4: Dallas has the better bench ... right?
Haslem suddenly is playing like the Haslem of '06 instead of the one who was 0-for-six months before asserting himself as a healthy, productive contributor midway through the Bulls series. Miller, who has dealt with injuries all season and had to tend to his ill newborn during the conference finals, played the way the Heat always anticipated he would in a productive Game 4 performance. But it remains to be seen whether the emergence of Haslem and Miller is an aberration or a trend; neither performed well in the series-clinching Game 5 victory in Chicago. The Mavs' second unit was a momentum-changer against the Lakers and Thunder, and it brings some interesting challenges for Spoelstra to consider. J.J. Barea's speed, penetration and peskiness; Jason Terry's creativity off the dribble and 3-point shooting; Brendan Haywood's size; and Peja Stojakovic's ability to serve as a release valve on the perimeter will put a lot of stress on Miami's defensive rotations. Haslem, Miller and Chalmers will be called upon to make a more consistent positive impact than they've provided thus far in the postseason.
5: Offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting -- the great equalizers.
The Heat's vulnerability on the glass was exposed by the Bulls, who simply didn't have enough other ways to score to make it count. Dallas is deceptively effective on the offensive glass; though the Mavs and Heat have both been below the league average in offensive rebounding rate in the playoffs, Dallas does a good job keeping possessions alive in key moments with tap-outs -- especially from Marion, who often is being boxed out by a smaller defender. Both teams emphasize getting stops and protecting the boards, which fuels their ability to get occasional, but important baskets in transition. Also worth noting: the Mavs are the third-best 3-point shooting team in the playoffs (.388), while the Heat are the third-worst 3-point defending team in the playoffs (.385). With every possession and every quality shot at a premium in the halfcourt, those two areas will be momentum-changers at important moments in this series.
It's a collision of two teams playing their best basketball at the perfect time. The Mavs are deep, playing cohesively and have an all-time player putting up playoff performances befitting his legendary imprint on the game.
The Heat have one of those, too. Though James isn't as far along in his career, he has risen to the expectations he accelerated by teaming with Wade last summer and putting the championship onus squarely on his shoulders. He has responded in ways even his harshest critics couldn't have imagined -- with other-worldly defense, devastating 3-point shooting and the mental chops to assert himself as Miami's closer against Boston and Chicago. At this point in James' championship mission, you pick against him at your peril. Which is what I do, taking the Mavericks in seven -- a nod to Dirk's brilliance, Kidd's experience, Dallas' overall depth and a stubborn belief that the NBA hasn't changed so much that a superteam can waltz through its first playoff run together and win a championship.
If basketball is still about matchups, the Mavs have the edge. If it's about star power, the Heat have outshined every opponent thus far and will do the same to the Mavs. The one thing we know for sure is, we will be entertained.

Could haggling NFL factions agree on social-media monitoring?

In the ongoing lockout, with passions ramped up by vitriolic rhetoric and litigation replacing negotiation, there seems very little on which the two sides agree.
Kevin Long actually may have happened upon a common ground: He feels certain that both the NFL and its decertified union hope to protect players' reputations. And he and the company of which he is CEO, MVP Sports Media Training and U Diligence of West Lafayette, Ind., have developed a program that might aid in that pursuit.
The program, currently employed by about two dozen Division I schools, monitors the Twitter and Facebook accounts of players, and dispatches an e-mail alert to both the school and the athlete when one of the key "search words" is used. Think the Pittsburgh Steelers, and tailback Rashard Mendenhall, couldn't benefit from the program? And by extension -- given that several players in the league have used social media outlets in recent weeks to offer messages that might be regarded as, well, anti-social, or at least misguided -- teams and their locked out rank-and-file wouldn't benefit?
"I would think both the league and the players association would be amenable to something like this," Long said. "If the key is protecting a player's reputation, and that's really what it is, wouldn't it seem everyone would want to do that? It's like being in Willy Wonka and finding the golden ticket."
One would think that, in a business where the opposite sides both parrot the hackneyed admonition about maintaining the "integrity of the game," such would be the case. But other than about three exploratory phones call from teams a few years ago -- all of them seeking to potentially monitor the posts of potential draft choices and not incumbent players -- Long hasn't received any inquiries for a system that was designed in 2008.
The system, which includes clients in the six major college conferences and which was noted last week in a feature in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concerning the increasing dilemma teams face with social media, tracks the posts of athletes from many of the client universities' major teams. The program identifies 500 key words -- most of them from a range of subjects dealing with drugs, alcohol, sex, race and violence -- and red-flags any messages using the terms.
Within 2-3 minutes, a cautionary e-mail is dispatched to the school and the athlete. As for a league that at times seems almost as concerned with the bottom line as with maintaining public confidence, the cost is negligible. It is $1,500 per year for one college team, and $5,000 to track 500 athletes in all sports.
Clients can also customize the menu of words that initiate the alarms. For instance, if the Steelers were facing the Ravens, then Pittsburgh officials could enter the term "Baltimore" or "Ray Lewis" on the list of red-flag terms, to potentially preclude their players from providing bulletin-board material. So franchises could tailor the list of verboten words to meet their needs.
Could the NFL potentially make the program a condition of employment, a better and clearly more enforceable method of policing the often misguided messages that some players initiate? Obviously, there would be some First Amendment issues. But, as Long noted, the players must also willingly download the application for it to work. And if the league and the players' trade association (formerly the NFLPA) were to collectively bargain the program into a new CBA, it would stand a better chance of withstanding any challenges.
Several attorneys and agents surveyed about a league-mandated ban on players' use of social media contended that the issue would be strenuously challenged. But it would "have some teeth, at least," an agent agreed, if it were part of a CBA, and thus agreed to by the trade association. And the fact that a player must voluntarily download the application to permit the tracking might also offer a way around First Amendment or privacy issues.
Of course, a union that views HGH blood-testing as an invasion of privacy that it won't sanction -- and which has instructed players against agreeing to such exams -- probably isn't about to limit players' rights to social media, right?
Of the seven teams contacted this week, all but two were unfamiliar with Long's service. Officials from some of the franchises acknowledged interest, but none committed to exploring it. Still, several of the club officials conceded to concerns about players using social media, particularly during the lockout.
"My feeling," Long said, "is that once you put something on the Internet, it's no longer private. I would think teams might want to guard against that, at least in some instances." Obviously, as has been demonstrated in recent weeks by Twitter and Facebook posts for which players have been forced to apologize or explain, the issue of the increasing use of social media is of some concern to franchises. There are a few college programs that ban players from using social media in-season. The NFL has rules that prohibit players from using social media during games, and for a time before and after contests. Last season, Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, arguably the NFL player whose tweets have attracted the widest audience, was fined $25,000 for using Twitter during a preseason game.
Long said that, in speaking to athletes, he urges them to avoid what he terms a "Google-able moment." Said Long: "The last thing you want is for your own words to come back at you."
He uses Mendenhall, whose Twitter remarks in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden have drawn sharp criticism even from loyal Pittsburgh fans, as an example.
Indeed, when Mendenhall's name was "Googled" on Wednesday, 16 of the first 20 items cited concerned his bin Laden remarks. There was sparse acknowledgement of his consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, or even his untimely Super Bowl fumble.
"If [Mendenhall] had some way of due diligence for what he was saying, perhaps he could have mitigated it in some way," Long said. "Let's face it, people make bad judgments ... and we help protect them from themselves sometimes."
Long has what he laughingly referred to as the "Mother Rule," and, while relatively simple, it might merit consideration for NFL players and the population at large.
"If you're posting something that would make your mother spill her coffee when she reads it, or to keel over," Long said, "then don't do it."

Djokovic extends streak to 43, Federer adds to quarters mark

PARIS -- Second-seeded Novak Djokovic outclassed Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 Sunday in the fourth round of the French Open to extend his winning streak to 43 matches.
It was Djokovic's third day in a row on court at Roland Garros. He beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the previous round on Saturday in a match that stretched over two days.
Djokovic is 41-0 in 2011, the second-best start to a season in the Open era, which began in 1968. He also won his last two matches of 2010, making his overall run the third-longest, behind Guillermo Vilas' record of 46 in a row in 1977.
Bidding for his third Grand Slam title -- and first at Roland Garros -- Djokovic will next play Fabio Fognini of Italy.
Earlier Sunday, Roger Federer set yet another Grand Slam record, extending his quarterfinal streak at major tournaments to 28 with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Olympic gold medal doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka at the French Open.
The 16-time major champion, who completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2009, improved on the record he shared with Jimmy Connors on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The last time Federer failed to reach the quarterfinals at a major was at the 2004 French Open, when he was the top-seeded player but lost to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova knocked out the highest seeded player remaining in the women's draw, beating No. 3 Vera Zvonareva 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2 to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
Defending women's champion Francesca Schiavone and No. 10 Jelena Jankovic are scheduled to be in action.
Federer again dominated with his serve. He was broken once early in the third set, but broke back twice to remain one of the four players to have won every match in straight sets.
Federer also beat Wawrinka, his Davis Cup teammate, in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. In 2008, the Swiss pair teamed up to win the doubles gold at the Beijing Olympics.

At 19, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is the youngest player left in the tournament. (AP)

At 19, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is the youngest player left in the tournament.


Besides his record 16 major titles, Federer also set a record of 23 straight Grand Slam semifinal appearances. That run ended at last year's French Open, when he was beaten in the quarterfinals.
Federer set his quarterfinal streak in 28 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, while Connors skipped some in his run.
In the next round, Federer will face either No. 7 David Ferrer or No. 9 Gael Monfils.
The third-seeded Zvonareva followed No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 2 Kim Clijsters out of the tournament after losing to Pavlyuchenkova, at 19 the youngest player still in the tournament. Wozniacki and Clijsters both lost in the third round.
No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is now the highest seeded player left.
"I don't really want to comment on this, because, well, it's not of my business," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I'm just trying to do my thing, focusing on me. ... The rest, I don't really care."
It is only the third time that none of the top three seeded women has reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968, and the first time at the French Open. It also happened at Wimbledon in 2008 -- when the top four were eliminated by the end of the fourth round -- and at the Australian Open in 1997.
Zvonareva reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals last year and the Australian Open semifinals in January. She saved two match points in the final game against Pavlyuchenkova before hitting a forehand long on the third.
"Well, that's, I guess, part of the game. I know what I have to work on and what I have to improve," said Zvonareva, who saved a match point in the second round before advancing. "Of course when you play less than 50 percent of your potential, it's very tough to win the fourth round of a Grand Slam."
For the 14th-seeded Pavlyuchenkova, the result is her best at a Grand Slam tournament. Previously, she reached the fourth round at least year's U.S. Open.
"She (Zvonareva) was up with a break, so I think maybe in the past or last year I wouldn't believe I can win this match against that top player," Pavlyuchenkova said. "This time I think that was the main key."

Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or
distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The
Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Pistone: All-Star preview -

By Pete Pistone


There are no points and simply pride and money on the line in Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Over the years that’s been a pretty good recipe for an entertaining night of racing.
Since the annual All-Star event made its debut back in 1985 it’s undergone a variety of changes, modification and tweaks. But at the end of the day it’s still all about one thing and one thing only – winning.
“Yeah, everybody amps it up so much saying there’s nothing on the line but money,” said former winner Tony Stewart. “Trust me, we all think of the trophy first and the money second. But it’s fun to know that you can take extra chances in that race and you know that everybody is going to do it so it just takes the whole level of racing and just takes it up a whole new level that we don’t get a chance to do when we’re racing (the normal schedule).”
The change of pace from the weekly grind of points racing makes Saturday night’s race special enough that in addition to the drive to succeed there’s also a “fun factor” in play.
“We’ve never been able to close the deal,” said Sprint Cup Series point leader Carl Edwards. “I’m excited to be able to go compete for a million dollars and not have points on the line. It’s just a fun weekend and I’m looking forward to it more than I have any other All Star race.”

In a bit or a rarity considering the history of the event, this year’s All-Star Race will again feature the same format used last year when Kurt Busch went to victory lane.
The Sprint Showdown preliminary event will see the first two finishers move into the main event along with one driver voted in by “Fan Vote” for an All-Star Race starting line-up of 22 cars.
A fifty lap segment opens up the All-Star Race followed by a pair of 20-lappers with a no holds barred ten lap dash to the checkered flag set to cap the night off and the $1 million pot of gold.
That all adds up to what some believe to be the best all-star event in professional sports.
“Our series, the hits are actually probably worse, harder, stronger,” said Jimmie Johnson of what takes place in the NFL’s Pro Bowl or NHL’s All-Star Game. “The intensity and commitment for our All-Star event seems to be a lot higher than others. So that mindset is the difference to me. Not to take anything away from those athletes. I should then say we’re surrounded by a steel cage so it’s easier for us to dish some stuff out and take some hits.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway 
Track Size: 1.5-mile

Banking/Straightaways: 5 degrees
Banking/Corners: 24 degrees

Race Facts 
There have been 26 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races.
The first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was in 1985.      

25 have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 1986, the event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and won by Bill Elliott. That season was also the first year for what is now known as the Sprint Showdown.      
84 drivers have run in at least one All-Star Race.      
There have been 18 different winners of the All-Star Race.      

Mark Martin has participated in 21 races, more than any other driver.      
The race has featured a field that ranged from 10 drivers in 1986 to 27 in 2002.      
Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990 and 1993) and Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997 and 2001) are the only three-time winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
There have been seven different winners in the last seven NASCAR Sprint All-Star races.      

Davey Allison (1991 and 1992), Terry Labonte (1988 and 1999), Mark Martin (1998 and 2005) and Jimmie Johnson (2003 and 2006) are the only other drivers to post multiple victories in the All-Star Race. Allison is the only driver to ever win consecutive All-Star events.      
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Ryan Newman (2002) are the only drivers to win the All-Star Race in their rookie season.      

Jeff Gordon is the youngest winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at 23 years, 9 months and 18 days (1995). Mark Martin is the oldest at 46 years, 4 months and 12 days (2005).      
Matt Kenseth has a 6.6 average finish in 10 appearances in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the best of any driver in this weekend’s field; followed by Jimmie Johnson with a 6.7 average finish in nine appearances. The best average finish by a driver with more than five starts is Ken Schrader, at 6.125.      

The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has been won from the pole position four times; the first three came in consecutive years: Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Davey Allison (1991 and 1992). Kurt Busch posted the fourth win from the pole last season.      
The deepest in the field an All-Star Race winner has started was 27th, by Ryan Newman in 2002.    

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won six All-Star Races: Jeff Gordon (three), Jimmie Johnson (two) and Terry Labonte (one).      
Five drivers have won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same year: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001) and Jimmie Johnson (2006).

The record for lead changes in a NASCAR Sprint All-Star race is 10 in 2004. The most different leaders is nine in 2002.

Who’s Hot at the All-Star Race
Matt Kenseth – Fresh off his victory last Sunday in Dover Kenseth races to the All-Star Race with four straight Top 10 finishes in the event on his record. Kenseth is a winner of the 2004 race.
Tony Stewart – His recent rough streak could be cured with another win in the All-Star Race, where he’s run in the Top 5 four straight years including a victory lane-worthy performance back in 2009.
Kurt Busch  – A year ago Busch was the toast of Charlotte Motor Speedway with a win in the All-Star Race and a follow-up victory in The Coca-Cola 600. Things have not gone well for the Penske Racing team since Daytona but the ship would feel very righted with back-to-back $1 million paydays.

Who’s Not
Kyle Busch – You’d think the format of the All-Star Race would be perfect for Busch’s style of racing with the all-out dash to the checkered flag in the final ten-lap segment. But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has not enjoyed the annual event very much at all and has only one Top 10 finish in five career starts.
Jamie McMurray – Charlotte is the scene of McMurray’s first career Sprint Cup win but the All-Star Race has not been a favorite of the Earnhardt Ganassi racing driver. An average finish of 17.2 in four career starts is McMurray’s performance record in the race.
Jeff Burton – The veteran has a best finish of fourth in six career races for Burton adds up to a career average finish of 14.8.

2011 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race

Entry List
  Bayne, Trevor
  Biffle, Greg
  Bowyer, Clint
  Busch, Kurt
  Busch, Kyle
  Edwards, Carl

  Gordon, Jeff
  Hamlin, Denny
  Harvick, Kevin
  Johnson, Jimmie
  Kahne, Kasey
  Kenseth, Matt

  Martin, Mark
  McMurray, Jamie
  Montoya, Juan Pablo
  Newman, Ryan
  Reutimann, David
  Smith, Regan

  Stewart, Tony
  Fan Vote Winner
  Winner Sprint Showdown
  Second Place Sprint Showdown

extracted from

Elling: Major course correction - Tiger's majors mission now becomes improbable

It was, by the length of a nine-course meal, the funniest line of the week.
Maybe a tad prescient, too.
One of Tiger Woods' oldest friends and confidants, a guy who once lived a hundred yards down the same street and served as his professional mentor, was explaining how the fading former world No. 1 seemed to finally be in a happy place emotionally. So much so that Woods did the unthinkable over dinner on the eve of the Players Championship.
He pried open his wallet, reached between the cobwebs, pulled out some plastic and picked up the check.

Tiger Woods probably won't be displacing Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead atop the majors list after all. (Getty Images)

Tiger Woods probably won't be displacing Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead atop the majors list after all.

(Getty Images)

"It's not often he goes to the hip," Mark O'Meara cracked, drawing huge laughs.
The lone Woods tipping point of the week, it wasn't.
After nine holes, Woods handed a scorecard to his playing partners and withdrew, the numerical tab having grown to 42 strokes. Even with Woods' substantial assets, both physically and financially, it added up to a hugely disappointing sum.
For the first time, after 20 months on the fence as Woods' cataclysmic career trajectory and personal life have morphed into the stuff of morbid curiosity, it's at last become clear that he's too beaten down, too beaten up and just plain too easy to beat.
For many of us on the fence regarding his future, it became jarringly clear last week that Woods is never going to break the decades-old records of Jack Nicklaus or Sam Snead.
By any definition of the word, Woods has pulled up, lame. Fate has wrecked what we once considered a fait accompli.
Some will find an immediate sense of satisfaction and comfort in that sentiment, in that the game's monumental marks for total victories and Grand Slam wins are safe from his pillaging. On this end, it's more akin to gradual resignation. He first lost his moral compass and reputation -- now his golf game and health are both pointed due south. What's left? It didn't sneak up on anybody, really. It's just that the preponderance of evidence hit home as Woods ponderously walked the TPC Sawgrass course last week, trailing 100 yards behind his ambulatory playing partners. How can he run when he can't even walk, or when, in each of his last two starts, he's injured himself hitting mundane golf shots?
He bandages his knee as we bandy about the increasingly reasonable questions about his future, especially after Woods noted on his website Monday that he likely won't play again until the U.S. Open next month. By then, he will have completed 16 stroke-play rounds in 5 1/2 months of PGA Tour play -- or roughly three per month.
Most guys show up for the Open, the toughest test in golf, feeling ready, willing and able. Woods is 1-for-3 and it's clearly time to ask how much that'll change. As one surgeon told the New York Times, when you have had four surgeries in the affected area, there's no such thing as a minor strain. His Achilles injuries are the result of wear and tear, not a particular injury, Woods said. His ankles hurt. He tweaked a calf muscle.
Used to be, Woods didn't say much about his injuries. Now he's as rusty as a '72 Ford Pinto and parts are falling off. Odds are pretty good he's not jaking it, either. His ex-swing coach, Butch Harmon, is a former military man and says Woods is the toughest player he's ever coached.
"Tiger Woods has a higher pain threshold than any player I have ever known," Harmon said two weeks ago in Charlotte, N.C. "He'd have calf injuries, sprains, whatever, and he would never even limp. People would have no idea."
We do now. If he's addressing his maladies publicly, that says plenty about how much he's hurting, not to mention underscores that he no longer can hide the totality of his injuries anymore.
Three years is a long time in any sport, but it seems like only yesterday that the prognosticators weren't just envisioning Nicklaus and Snead getting passed, but eyeballing their extinction dates. It wasn't a matter of whether Woods would break the mark for most major wins, 18, but a question of when.
I predicted that he'd catch Nicklaus by the end of 2010, since majors were played at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews last year, sites where he had piled up multiple Grand Slam titles by whopping margins. It didn't remotely seem like a stretch given his conversion rate at the time.
Then he had knee reconstruction. Then he had marriage deconstruction. He hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. In fact, I bet a writer from ESPN a few shillings the other day that the next eight majors will be won by eight different players and probably should have added a side wager that none will be named Eldrick. There are 35 rookies on tour this season and two of them have already won. With every passing week that players finish ahead of Woods, whatever is left of his juju erodes further. Nobody faints at the sight of his shadow anymore and as Woods seemingly gets older by the minute at a creaky 35, the tour keeps getting younger.
It's been like watching a soap opera or Oprah, with each day between the ropes seemingly offering another dizzying development. When Woods wrecked his public persona in the scandal, not a soul envisioned the performance issues it would indirectly create for the player. A year ago, Woods wanted everybody to stop talking about his personal life and concentrate on his golf. Now it's a tossup as to which is in sorrier state.
This isn't just about his execution, either. His image has been sullied to the point where he remains, in the marketing world, practically toxic. No need recapping the damaging personal fare, but now he's not winning, either. When was the last time you spotted him in an advertisement, other than as part of an ensemble cast in a Nike spot? In other words, corporate America quite literally isn't buying the notion that Woods is poised for a comeback, either personally or professionally.
Now, neither am I. By the time Woods next figures to play, it will have been 21 months since he won on the PGA Tour. His best finish in that stretch is T4. That new golf swing and jittery putting stroke aren't getting any better while he's sitting on his sofa eating Froot Loops.
Let's be clear: Woods will still pick off a few victories, and perhaps a couple of majors along the way. But he needs four to tie Nicklaus, which as has been pointed out numerous times, is the exact number amassed over the two-decade career by the game's second-best player in that span, Phil Mickelson.
The tour is wisely positioned to continue without Woods as its major marquee man. Nobody in Ponte Vedra Beach is writing him off and his boon to the TV ratings remains inarguable, but if you've seen the PGA Tour's series of 2011 promotional ads juxtaposing young players against the established guard like Woods, it's pretty clear that the new wave is being tossed on our plate for public consumption.
"The idea of the young guys challenging the established stars, I think, is something that's a positive thing," Commissioner Tim Finchem said Sunday. "The other thing is Tiger has been finishing well in advance of finish time this year, and our television ratings are up virtually across the board."
Translated: Tiger isn't in the afternoon TV window, which means that even when he is playing, he often isn't in contention.
"There's a number of reasons for that [ratings data], but one of them is clearly the fans are engaging with and focusing on these other players, and that's good news for the future," Finchem said.
Maybe you guys figured it out first. Most of us inside the traveling tour circus learned long ago that dismissing Woods usually just made him mad, which led to more than a few dismissive news dispatches being eaten by their authors.
In that regard, if this column turns out to be dead wrong, and Woods somehow catches Nicklaus and Snead, I'll print out the story, douse it in Tabasco, and eat the words.
I'll pay that tab myself.
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Miller: Weather wreaking havoc - Reasons for rain? Maybe Mother Nature wants more twinbills

Raindrops keep fallin' on their heads. And fallin' ... and fallin' ... and fall. ...
Yet even in its wettest season in years, baseball looks out its (water-dotted) window and sees rainbows.
You can tell by the fact that, so far, there are no job postings for Executive Vice President, Global Warming.
"I don't know what Al Gore was talking about," commissioner Bud Selig joked from his office in Milwaukee this week. "I sure wouldn't mind it getting warmer."

Fans have already soaked up 29 weather-related postponements, eight more than all of last season. (AP)

Fans have already soaked up 29 weather-related postponements, eight more than all of last season.


Nor would 30 clubs.
Warmer, and drier.
Through Wednesday, 29 games already had been postponed because of inclement weather. Last year? There was a total of 21 postponements ... for the entire season.
"I'm an amateur meteorologist," Selig continued. "I watch the Weather Channel a lot. And this has been unbelievable. Everybody you talk to is talking about it.
"The fact that we're even close to our attendance figures through this point last year is incredible. ... We're less than one percent down from last year. I'm more than optimistic about our attendance. I'm more bullish than ever before."
I believe Selig was wearing galoshes and speaking from beneath an umbrella even while inside his office.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the earth experienced the seventh-warmest April since record-keeping started in 1880.
According to the National Weather Service, La Nina -- obviously a fan of showers, but not Towles (J.R., whose Astros were rained out in Cincinnati on May 2) -- is the rainmaker.
A La Nina phenomenon occurs when cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean wreak havoc with the atmosphere.
"The result is an active storm track driven by a stronger-than-average jet stream right into the center of the country, which is common to La Nina patterns in the spring," said Richard Castro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Chicago bureau.
I phoned the Chicago bureau of the NWS because the city has been hammered especially hard this spring: The Cubs already have postponed three games in Wrigley Field, which ties Pittsburgh for the major-league lead.
"At least they're first in something, huh?" one helpful NWS person offered.
Predictably, the drenchings are dredging up old arguments as to why baseball doesn't play more early games in warm weather cities, and why the schedule doesn't start later.
As for the former, it is simply more waterlogged than the Pirates, whose washout in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday was their fourth of the season.
There are certain desires inherent in all clubs: Everybody wants more home dates during the summer, when school is out. Few want to play at home on Mother's Day. Nobody wants to open on the road every season (and nobody wants to play on the road for long stretches at a time).
Then, there are the two-team markets. If the Mets and Yankees both spent much of April on the road and then made up for it in, say, June ... there would be no baseball in New York for much of April, then two games per day in June? That's just silly.
Who's the wettest
AL home-park rainouts
Team No.
Baltimore 2
Boston 2
Cleveland 2
Detroit 2
Minnesota 2
New York 1
Texas 1
NL home-park rainouts
Team No.
Chicago 3
Pittsburgh 3
Atlanta 2
Colorado 2
New York 2
Washington 2
Cincinnati 1
Philadelphia 1
St. Louis 1
As for opening day, yes, 2011 started a few days earlier than usual as Selig rightly works to keep the World Series out of November (this fall, Game 7 is scheduled for Oct. 27).
But here's the catch with this year's March 31 openers:
Through April 12, there were only three rainouts.
Between April 12 and 19, there were nine.
So the season should have started, when? Sometime after April 20?
There's a reason everybody talks about the weather and nobody does anything about it. Or, as legendary manager Leo Durocher once said, "You don't save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain."
Poor Cleveland. Last in the majors in attendance in 2010, the Indians shockingly own baseball's best record in 2011. While they played before scores of empty seats early, last Friday, 33,774 watched Cleveland score three runs in the bottom of the ninth in a 5-4 win.
Then the Indians and Mariners were rained out on both Saturday and Sunday.
"The weather is going to get better," Selig said.
I believe he now was wearing a rain slicker and scuba mask.
Last season, there were only two rainouts in April. When the Twins opened Target Field, it was 70 degrees. And they were rained out at home only once all of last year. This year, they've already been washed out twice.
It's wet everywhere. On April 29, the Dodgers and Padres suffered four rain delays in San Diego, of all places, and the game finally was suspended at 1:40 a.m. (and completed the next day).
This week in Oakland, the start of an Angels-Athletics game was delayed 90 minutes. The Brewers and Dodgers played through rain in Los Angeles.
"We left Milwaukee and it was 50 degrees, raining and windy as hell, and we landed in Los Angeles and the weather was the same," Brewers Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker said. "I thought we circled for 4½ hours and landed in Milwaukee again."
Rain, economy, gas prices ... on Tuesday afternoon, you could purchase $2 tickets on StubHub for that night's Marlins-Mets game in New York and Blue Jays-Tigers game in Detroit. Both wound up postponed.
"We've got a great sales pitch: 'Come and watch the rain delay,'" quipped one executive.
Old records are sketchy but, since 2000, 50 rainouts in '04 is the season high. Currently, 2011 is on pace to drown that.
Beautiful days? Yeah, if you're a duck. Last year, Katy Feeney, executive vice president for scheduling and club relations, worked to jockey a large portion of the schedule around a U2 tour. Homestands were moved in certain markets. Games were flip-flopped. Then the band canceled at the last minute when lead singer Bono underwent emergency surgery.
Which is more temperamental?
"I haven't figured that out yet," Feeney said. "Bono's back, or Mother Nature."
Splish, splash.
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Dobrow: Player Rankings - Player Rankings: Chasing sparse seconds and lefties

Stats through May 16
Chase Utley may or may not be running at full speed and pivoting at full pivotosity during his current rehab, and he may or may not come back this week as the guy who was one of the game's five best players between 2005 and 2009. Thus it feels both premature and weird ranking the league's second basemen in his absence -- and what a sad-clown group it is. Utley on one leg or Omar Infante? Utley denying the existence of a broken rib even as bones visibly protrude through his jersey, or Bill Hall? Gimme Utley. I believe.
As for left-handed starters, the pool is equally shallow, at least while a handful of candidates struggle with injury (Johan Santana, Brian Matusz) and bad-at-pitching-ness (Francisco Liriano, John Danks). While it's still hard to justify contracts like the one the Phillies handed to Cliff Lee -- not because he's not great, but because he's 32 -- we live in a supply-and-demand world. You can either pay what the market will bear, or you can be the Pirates. That's how it works.

1. Rickie Weeks, 2B - Milwaukee Brewers
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 6
Jaime Garcia Forget the beautiful, beautiful bat. The advanced fielding metrics I don't entirely understand now paint him as merely substandard on defense, as opposed to anvil-handed and barbarous. Baby steps, man, baby steps.
Key Stats:
163 AB,
7 HR,
.301 AVG,
14 RBI,
25 R,
5 SB
2. Robinson Cano, 2B - New York Yankees
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 5
Clayton Kershaw This is largely a legacy ranking based on his 2010 performance and the possibility that he'll start accepting walks again. The Yankees know from experience that the world doesn't need another Mariano Duncan.
Key Stats:
147 AB,
9 HR,
.286 AVG,
25 RBI,
21 R,
3 SB
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B - Tampa Bay Rays
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 1
David Price He counts as a second baseman; the other keystone-capable utility folk, like Martin Prado, do not. Why? Because it's my column and I can qualify if I want to. Zobrist plays most positions well; his defense-minded keepers in Tampa would have it no other way.
Key Stats:
149 AB,
8 HR,
.289 AVG,
27 RBI,
31 R,
5 SB
4. Dustin Pedroia, 2B - Boston Red Sox
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 11
Cole Hamels The struggles against off-speed stuff aren't a problem, boosters say, because he's confident enough to battle through them. But what if he's not? What if all the "laser show" boasts mask a deep reservoir of self-disgust and longing? Hug him, stat.
Key Stats:
155 AB,
2 HR,
.245 AVG,
10 RBI,
21 R,
7 SB
5. Dan Uggla, 2B - Atlanta Braves
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 14
Jon Lester He'd rank higher on a list that doesn't assess the ability to move laterally. It still says here that his mashiness is a perfect fit on a Braves squad that hasn't had a righty bopper since Andruw Jones aged 15 years between the end of 2006 and the start of 2007.
Key Stats:
163 AB,
7 HR,
.202 AVG,
15 RBI,
19 R,
1 SB
6. Brandon Phillips, 2B - Cincinnati Reds
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 2
Cliff Lee The four-category fantasy deliciousness has upped his profile, perhaps undeservedly. In the real world, Phillips' sure-handedness afield and cagey baserunning are tempered by his impatience at the plate. Reality bites.
Key Stats:
146 AB,
5 HR,
.322 AVG,
26 RBI,
26 R,
2 SB
7. Howard Kendrick, 2B - Los Angeles Angels
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 3
Brett Anderson The OBP and SLG have spiked in 2011, a mere five years after we expected them to. How psyched must the Angels be that their injury problems have given them a reason to shift him off second? "No, Howie, it's totally temporary. Honest."
Key Stats:
168 AB,
6 HR,
.310 AVG,
17 RBI,
29 R,
4 SB
8. Ian Kinsler, 2B - Texas Rangers
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 7
CC Sabathia Wait a second -- the deal was that if he could manage to stay healthy for more than three series at a time, he'd ascend to a higher pinnacle of distinction. Yet here we are, a quarter of the way through a healthy season, and he hasn't. I feel gypped.
Key Stats:
152 AB,
5 HR,
.250 AVG,
17 RBI,
26 R,
7 SB
9. Neil Walker, 3B - Pittsburgh Pirates
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 4
Gio Gonzalez He's a second baseman like a cat is a tree. That said, a switch hitter on an OBP self-improvement tear and without pronounced lefty/righty splits is an asset -- an asset like a chest of dimes is an asset.
Key Stats:
151 AB,
5 HR,
.278 AVG,
22 RBI,
26 R,
2 SB
10. Brian Roberts, 2B - Baltimore Orioles
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 10
C.J. Wilson As recently as last September, Roberts was a run-creating gnat. There's nothing wrong with him that a pep talk and a new spine won't cure, so give him the benefit of the doubt until the MRI says otherwise.
Key Stats:
163 AB,
3 HR,
.221 AVG,
19 RBI,
18 R,
6 SB
11. Kelly Johnson, 2B - Arizona Diamondbacks
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 20
Ricky Romero Eesh. This position thins out fast. Johnson? He's got some power and he'll take a walk. That counts for something, slow start notwithstanding.
Key Stats:
147 AB,
4 HR,
.184 AVG,
7 RBI,
16 R,
6 SB
12. Jonathan Herrera, 2B - Colorado Rockies
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 13
Zach Britton In a limited look-see, he hasn't embarrassed himself, his team or his family. In conclusion, we should shorten these lists to ten players when the shallowness of the positional pool demands it.
Key Stats:
120 AB,
2 HR,
.292 AVG,
8 RBI,
15 R,
4 SB

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1. Jaime Garcia, SP - St. Louis Cardinals
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 4
Jaime Garcia Those still waiting for him to fall apart oughta find a new pet cause. It's like a bunch of college do-gooders refusing to leave the Dean's office until the university divests its oil and defense holdings. Don't hold your breath, kids.
Key Stats:
52.1 IP,
5-0 W-L,
0 SV,
1.89 ERA,
48 Ks,
12 BB
2. Clayton Kershaw, SP - Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 14
Clayton Kershaw Most 23-year-olds have no responsibilities other than mining the gems lodged in their nostrils; Kershaw has been charged with leading a major-league staff. His shoulders are as broad and sturdy as the ocean is salty and contaminated.
Key Stats:
59.0 IP,
5-3 W-L,
0 SV,
2.75 ERA,
64 Ks,
20 BB
3. David Price, SP - Tampa Bay Rays
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 23
David Price He's pretty OK at pitching, but did you see the clip of his batting-practice dinger? Forget that he cleared the fence -- his loop around the bases, which featured headfirst slides and somersaults, was the revelation. He appears to enjoy his job.
Key Stats:
62.2 IP,
5-3 W-L,
0 SV,
3.59 ERA,
52 Ks,
10 BB
4. Cole Hamels, SP - Philadelphia Phillies
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 24
Cole Hamels Line from an actual reader e-mail about Cole Hamels, who I think is effin' terrific: "More often than not his poor outings are because of his lack of mental focus and mental toughness." Really? And this is evident to the untrained eye how? Dumbass.
Key Stats:
53.2 IP,
4-2 W-L,
0 SV,
3.19 ERA,
56 Ks,
12 BB
5. Jon Lester, SP - Boston Red Sox
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 20
Jon Lester If there's a nit to pick, it's the walk totals. But in the context of Lester's overall ferocity, that's a small nit, like a lower-phylum parasite that just can't be bothered to leech.
Key Stats:
57.2 IP,
5-1 W-L,
0 SV,
3.28 ERA,
58 Ks,
24 BB
6. Cliff Lee, SP - Philadelphia Phillies
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 64
Cliff Lee There's been talk that he throws too many strikes, that he'd be better served by baiting hitters to swing at crud. Isn't that like saying an elite batter should try not to make so much solid contact, because line drives sometimes get caught?
Key Stats:
58.2 IP,
2-4 W-L,
0 SV,
3.84 ERA,
68 Ks,
13 BB
7. Brett Anderson, SP - Oakland Athletics
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 53
Brett Anderson His mantra is less "ommmmmm" than "stay healthy stay healthy stay healthy stay healthy." Would you rather have the Phillie Phour or Oakland's Cahill/Anderson/Gonzalez/McCarthy quartet and $60 million to spend? That's a legit question.
Key Stats:
60.0 IP,
2-3 W-L,
0 SV,
3.3 ERA,
47 Ks,
16 BB
8. CC Sabathia, SP - New York Yankees
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 41
CC Sabathia When pundits rhapsodize about his tendency to "put the team on his back," they mean it literally. The guy's torso is three times the width of a surfboard and just as long. If necessary, he could be used as a flotation device.
Key Stats:
59.2 IP,
3-3 W-L,
0 SV,
3.47 ERA,
50 Ks,
21 BB
9. Gio Gonzalez, RP - Oakland Athletics
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 88
Gio Gonzalez He got a mulligan -- a literal one -- for last week's outing against the Rangers, who pummeled him for 7 runs in 3 innings. It started to rain, the game got called and the ugly stats went bye-bye like water down the drain. Lucky dude.
Key Stats:
43.2 IP,
4-2 W-L,
0 SV,
2.68 ERA,
41 Ks,
20 BB
10. C.J. Wilson, SP - Texas Rangers
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 33
C.J. Wilson He added a limiting-walks component to his "str8-edge" persona -- a good thing, because we wouldn't want kids to look at him and think, "He's cool, accountable and substance-free, but he just gives it away. I'm gonna model myself after A.J. Burnett instead."
Key Stats:
61.1 IP,
4-2 W-L,
0 SV,
3.38 ERA,
50 Ks,
22 BB
11. Ricky Romero, SP - Toronto Blue Jays
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 40
Ricky Romero Next, on Dateline Minutes: Are Americans biased against ace-lite hurlers who pitch in Canada, or do the Jays just need to hire a better PR guy?
Key Stats:
51.0 IP,
3-4 W-L,
0 SV,
3.35 ERA,
51 Ks,
18 BB
12. Zach Britton, SP - Baltimore Orioles
Previous Rank: NR

| By Position: 11
Zach Britton Too soon? The K/BB numbers are worrying, but he's outpitched the other candidates (Buehrle, Sanchez and De La Rosa) for the slot. Just like the Orioles decided he was ready, so too did we. Hooray for happenstance.
Key Stats:
52.0 IP,
5-2 W-L,
0 SV,
2.42 ERA,
29 Ks,
16 BB

Haslem key to Heat hopes - With emergence of Haslem, Heat improve odds of beating Bulls

CHICAGO -- No way was it going to happen again.
No way were Dwyane Wade and LeBron James going to be little more than decorative pieces in a second Miami Heat loss in two Eastern Conference finals games against the Chicago Bulls.

Udonis Haslem scored 12 points in the second half of Game 2, but it's his defense that's key for Miami. (Getty Images)

Udonis Haslem scored 12 points in the second half of Game 2, but it's his defense that's key for Miami.

(Getty Images)

No way was Miami going to allow the Bulls to throw themselves a post-Oprah Winfrey celebration on the United Center stage.
No way.
So, on Wednesday evening -- the night after Chicago's iconic talk-show host's celebrity-laden farewell party in the same building -- the Heat recovered to even the best-of-7 series at a victory apiece.
The Heat now return to American Airlines Arena for the next two games, on Sunday and Tuesday nights, with an opportunity to seize control of a series that began miserably for them. What else would anyone call a 21-point loss, which was Miami's fourth to Chicago in four meetings going back through the regular season?
But if an NBA playoff series is about anything, it's about perspective.
And from Miami's perspective, the series has turned in its favor, at least temporarily, on the basis of the emergence of Udonis Haslem and its defense. If those two elements remain strong, it would seem the chances of the second-seeded Heat beating the top-seeded Bulls and moving onto the NBA Finals remain strong too.
And at the core of things for Miami stands the superstar tandem of Wade and James.
They combined for just 33 points in the Game 1 loss, making only 12 of 32 shots. Their numbers in Game 2 improved dramatically as they made 20 of 37 shots and scored 53 points.
Little wonder the Heat emerged with a 10-point win.
Here's the thing: Miami is a Big Three, including Chris Bosh, constructed with the notion that the sum of those parts more often than not is greater than the sum of the parts of any opposing team. And if significant assistance comes in any form -- a wonderful Wednesday night performance by Haslem, for example -- well, the Heat become all but unbeatable.
Haslem, who missed most of the regular season with a foot injury, not only filled the box score (13 points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot), but also provided 23-plus minutes of inspiration.
"The player of the game," Wade called him.
True, and the Heat's near invincibility under such circumstances was evident despite Bosh scoring only 10 points.
Something else Haslem will do, if he continues to contribute big minutes, is unclutter Miami's mix-and-match rotation. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra might not have to go beyond Wade, James, Bosh, Haslem, Joel Anthony, Mike Bibby and either Mike Miller or James Jones, depending on what's required.
It has been quite some time since Miami exhibited such a clean look.
The Heat insist all the animosity they've dealt with this season after signing James and Bosh and re-signing Wade in formation of a supposed super core steeled those players for whatever comes next. At a point when Chicago could have put them in a 2-0 hole, they demonstrated more than a little moxie.
James and Wade were great, and got unexpected help from Haslem.
It's a recipe that's almost always going to be good enough for Miami to succeed, which may serve to heighten the resentments against it. But the Heat insist adversity makes them stronger.
They took a big step toward proving it by getting even against the Bulls, and the latest Miami perspective is that the Heat are more dangerous than they've looked in a very long time.

Judge: Lockout hurts rookie QBs - Rookie QBs suffer most by lockout-prohibited work, teaching

This week's court decision allowing the NFL lockout to stand was more than just a setback for players. It was a crippling blow to rookie quarterbacks. They're the guys who need the mini-camps, OTAs, classroom work and on-field repetitions to develop into the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of tomorrow, only they're the ones not getting it
Now tell me that won't retard their development … because it will.
I know, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder are busy planning touch-football workouts with their teammates, and that's great. Only one problem: While it will help them learn new names, it won't help them learn new offenses.
Nope, to do that, they must be around coaches, classrooms and practice fields for months, and that's not going to happen as long as the lockout lasts. And from what we heard this week from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, that won't be anytime soon.
The court will rule on an NFL motion for appeal next month, and the expectation is that it puts the season on indefinite hold. That's not good for anyone involved in the game, but it's downright devastating to the development of a young quarterback.
"You want to build a bridge from the spring to the summer," said an AFC assistant, "but you can’t. Plus, you're not going to have time to have competition. You have to know things right off the bat, otherwise there's a lot of guessing going on -- and that's not good. Guys are going to have to suck it up for awhile.
"The smart guys might be OK, but the 'repetition' guys are screwed. Guys who need that work over and over aren't going to get it, and they'll get left behind -- at least at the beginning. It's the instinctive guys who will succeed.
"My prediction: Young quarterbacks are going to spend all their waking hours in the building during the season -- if there is a season -- a lot more than during normal years."
Of course, it's not just the rookie quarterbacks who are affected. It's the coaches teaching them, too. Already they've started to pare playbooks to reduce the learning curve for their students. The idea is for coaches to make things as uncomplicated as possible for their understudies.
"Let's just say the packages will be limited," said an NFC quarterbacks coach. "It's going to be: What do they really need? It's especially hard with rookie quarterbacks that are with veteran teams. You can't show a rookie quarterback what he should have gotten on his own because veterans will get bored out of their minds. Look at Minnesota: Brett Favre could step in and make all the calls tomorrow, but Christian Ponder can't. So it's going to be hard."
Learning the quarterback position is difficult as it is, with some coaches firm in their beliefs that it takes three to four years for passers to feel comfortable. All I know is that it takes more than one, and I offer Peyton Manning as an example. He was 3-13 as a rookie. Troy Aikman was 0-11. John Elway threw twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. Eli Manning produced a Blutarsky (zero-point-zero-zero passer rating) in a dreadful performance against Baltimore. And Drew Brees … well, it wasn't until his fourth season -- or after San Diego had all but given up on him, drafting Philip Rivers -- that he became a polished and reliable quarterback.
So it takes time, and that's where the lockout hurts rookies -- because it's not giving time to anyone but attorneys and judges.
Still, all is not lost. At least quarterbacks taken in the first-round have playbooks -- or should have. When the lockout was lifted it was done the day after they were chosen, so guys like Locker, Ponder, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert in all likelihood were handed playbooks before leaving their team headquarters, and that can't hurt.
"That’s an absolute advantage," said an AFC offensive coordinator. "At least they can get down the terminology, see formations and look at pictures. None of that will change, so that gives them an edge."
But I'm not sure how much it means if you don't have someone to help you with calls or walk you through exercises. In essence, it's like showing up the first day of school, getting handed a 100-page homework assignment, then going home to sit for weeks, maybe months, trying to figure it all out. You might be OK if there were a lifeline to call, but there isn’t. Nobody can help … or, at least, nobody is supposed to.

Rookie QBs like Jake Locker are already behind the daunting learning curve that passers face when jumping to the NFL. (Getty Images)

Rookie QBs like Jake Locker are already behind the daunting learning curve that passers face when jumping to the NFL.

(Getty Images)

One head coach I consulted said he believes assistants probably are communicating with players ("There's just too much you read about not to believe it's going on," he said), but so what? There's no face-to-face communication or on-the-field instruction to help with mechanics, techniques, formations and reading defenses.
Basically, there's no nothing, and I don't see how that does anything but retard the development of someone like Newton, who won a Heisman Trophy in a spread offense, ran more than he threw in his career at Auburn and the University of Florida and is in urgent need of tutoring because he's expected to be the starter in Carolina.
The Panthers may not admit that, but that's how it goes when you're the first pick of the draft, and Jimmy Clausen is the competition.
One GM said, "My question is: Do they start him from Day One? Or do they put him behind Clausen and let him learn, working him in by the eighth game or so. Or do they roll out both -- having, in essence, a two-quarterback system, that's not real popular but might be necessary.
"We don't know how quickly he'll pick things or what they'll throw him, but I guarantee it will be limited. And that will affect what Carolina is able to do. Because when you limit what you give the quarterback you limit the offense in general because he's the trigger man, and I want to see how that plays out over time.
"They might give him 30 plays where he would have had 300, and maybe those 30 are effective. But this is going to work both ways because if you're a defense facing the guy you're going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at him, and he'll do what he can to survive -- like throwing the 'out' or run and scramble.
"The key is what these guys are missing mentally -- because that is everything. The quarterbacks who achieved the most in this game, like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, all talk about how much they study in the offseason, and it shows. Because when you understand, you're confident. That comes with experience, but it comes with a lot of hard work, too."
Unfortunately for guys like Newton, Gabbert, Locker, Ponder and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton -- all rookie quarterbacks who could start this season -- the only work they do is on their own. And no matter what that is, it can't replicate what they could accomplish at their teams' headquarters.
No one is ready to say it's too late to make them ready for this season, but no one is prepared to say they aren't staring at an enormous learning curve, either. "No question, these guys are handicapped," the GM said. "A lot of this is going to depend on what we have for a training camp. If we have a normal one, the rookie quarterback is still going to be behind because he missed everything in the offseason. If we have half a training camp or two weeks to get ready, you're going to have a disaster for most of the season -- especially if you want him to start."
Bottom line?
"Bottom line," said an NFC head coach, "if you're a rookie quarterback, and you're looking to start, your back is against the wall."
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Freeman: Working through lockout - Merriman, Smith show lockout isn't work stoppage

Linebacker Shawne Merriman thinks he knows when the lockout will end. He's not claiming to be an expert. He's calling it an educated hunch.
"My guess, late June or early July," he said. "It'll run its course by then."

Shawne Merriman figures the lockout will wind down in June or July. (Getty Images)

Shawne Merriman figures the lockout will wind down in June or July.

(Getty Images)

In the meantime, as the lockout drones on into paralyzing monotony, Merriman continues the business of preparation. He is a Buffalo Bill but still works out in San Diego, where he spent most of his career. There's the MMA workout, the field drills and conditioning runs. Like hundreds, if not thousands of other players, he constantly preps for a season that may never come.
"You have no choice but to stay ready," he said. "If players don't stay ready, they're going to regret it later."
Thousands of miles away, the lockout hasn't caused one of the league's best and brightest, coach Mike Smith of the Falcons, to leave his offices and retire to a beach. Quite the contrary. In many ways Smith and the coaching staff remain as busy as if this were a normal offseason. Smith is discovering the lockout has provided more time to direct attention to previously neglected projects.
"This isn't a time to take it easy," said Smith. "I can guarantee you no coach in this league is seeing the lockout as a time to rest. It's the opposite."
Smith and Merriman are symbolic of what's occurring with coaches and players during these ugly times in a fractured sport. They prepare as if the season could start at any moment despite not knowing for certain when it will arrive. Coaches like Smith watch their film and run their scenarios while players like Merriman still perform their own due diligence, the bills still due, despite the absence of paychecks.
They prepare. Then wait. Prepare some more, wait some more. It's the lockout two-step that has been ongoing for over two months and will probably continue for many more.
What has become clear is that coaches and players are using the lockout almost as a test of their dedication. As Merriman sees it, no one is watching -- no coach, no trainer -- so now is the time to work your hardest. As Smith sees it, no one is watching -- no media, no players -- so now is equally the time work your hardest.

That similar mindset is why there has been no public animosity between players and coaches similar to players and owners. Both see themselves as the working class of the sport. Sure, that's a stretch, but they possess the belief that lockout or no lockout, they're going to outwork competitors. It's what distinguishes them from the amateurs.
There are certainly coaches vacationing in the south of France and players getting their Krispy Kreme on. The exceptions exist. We've seen the Reggie Bush tweets. But it seems, for the most part, neither player nor coach is getting fat and happy during the lockout.
When Smith was a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville he was known as one of the more studious coaches in all of football. That hasn't changed. Interestingly, Smith has spent time examining how other coaching staffs are handling the lockout, and the common theme seems to be this: Act like there isn't one, prepare as normal.
Smith gives a complicated example and it serves as a window into how talented coaches think during these times. Smith said the normal Falcon offseason consists mainly of four components: free-agent evaluations, draft evaluations, working with players on the field and something called system analysis. That last goal is rarely reached in full because of the demands on time from the other issues.
Since there's more time because of the lockout the staff has dived into this system analysis, which consists of a top-to-bottom look at the efficiency of the offense and defense -- plays, players, schemes, everything. It's like a 100,000-mile checkup on a car.
When the Falcons lost last season in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers 48-21, Smith was determined to evaluate their postseason preparation. Every minute of it, in fact. The lockout allowed him to do just that.
On the surface, the league is quiet, but underneath, the activity is there. Merriman has a number of off-field projects he's working on though his workouts remain the priority, and Smith is still the detailed worker bee. They push back as the lockout pushes on.
Smith has enjoyed one thing about the lockout. He's been able to eat more meals at home with his family. And who says the lockout is all bad?
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