...a Game 7 to determine the NL champion

921073.jpg

...a Game 7 to determine the NL champion

From Comcast SportsNetSAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Chris Carpenter walked off the mound, and the fans cheered him once again.Giants fans, that is.The orange towel-twirling crowd at AT&T Park saw San Francisco send the St. Louis star to an early exit in a 6-1 win Sunday night that forced the NL championship series to a decisive Game 7."The bottom line is," Carpenter said, "I'm not giving my team a chance to win."The Cardinals' longtime postseason ace came back from a complicated operation that removed a rib and two neck muscles just to get on the mound again this October for the reigning World Series champions. All of that success, though, has evaporated in his last two starts in San Francisco.Carpenter allowed five runs in four shaky innings -- identical to his loss earlier in Game 2. Not what the Cardinals had come to expect from him in the postseason, a resume that includes a Game 7 win in last year's World Series.And so the wild-card Cardinals were pushed to the brink of elimination once more. They're plenty familiar with that situation.Carpenter and St. Louis won the decisive Game 5 of the division series at Philadelphia last season, then the Cardinals overcame a 3-2 deficit in the World Series to beat Texas. They won the winner-take-all wild-card game at Atlanta this month and rallied in the ninth at Washington in Game 5 of the division series.Now they must do it again.Giants ace Matt Cain will take the mound for Game 7 in San Francisco on Monday night opposite Kyle Lohse in a rematch of a rain-delayed Game 3, which the Cardinals won in St. Louis. There's also a rare rainy forecast for San Francisco for the clincher."We've been in this spot before," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "We're not going to be intimidated by it."If the Cardinals hope to return to the World Series, they'll need to find some stronger pitching and defense -- and fast.Not to mention a little offense, too.Allen Craig's two-out single in the sixth drove home Carlos Beltran for the Cardinals' only run against Ryan Vogelsong, who struck out a career-high nine in seven innings of four-hit ball. St. Louis had gone 15 innings without scoring after lefty Barry Zito and Co. held it scoreless in Game 5.Carpenter allowed six hits and three unearned runs, the same as he did in Game 2 at San Francisco, except he had only one strikeout in that outing. The 10 unearned runs allowed by the Cardinals over the series is the most in NLCS history, according to STATS LLC. Two teams have allowed nine.Talk about St. Louis blues."The one thing I know is these guys take these ones hard," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've had a number of losses this season that felt like we've been kicked in the gut as we're walking off the field. And what I have admired about this club is they show up tomorrow the exact same guys that they showed up here today."They have no choice anymore.The only other time the Cardinals opened a 3-1 lead in the NLCS came in 1996, when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in seven games. San Francisco, which never faced an elimination game in winning the 2010 World Series title, is 5-0 when pushed to the edge this postseason.St. Louis has won its last six games when facing elimination. After taking a 3-1 lead before being held scoreless in Game 5 to force the series back to San Francisco, the Cardinals were hoping to avoid having to extend that streak.They Giants simply wouldn't let them.After Marco Scutaro drew a one-out walk in the first inning, Pablo Sandoval doubled over the head of Jon Jay as the center fielder got turned around fighting the sun and shadows during the twilight start. Scutaro scored on Buster Posey's groundout -- which third baseman David Freese bobbled on the exchange to eliminate any chance at a throw home -- to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.With Brandon Crawford trying to steal second on the pitch, Vogelsong chopped a ball that rookie shortstop Pete Kozma couldn't handle, allowing Brandon Belt to score in the second. Then Scutaro hit a two-run double to left and Sandoval singled on the 10th pitch against Carpenter to put the Giants ahead 5-0.Adding to the Cardinals' concerns is the status of one of their best hitters.Matt Carpenter replaced Matt Holliday in St. Louis' lineup when the left fielder was scratched about 45 minutes before first pitch because of lower back tightness, and Matheny said after the team will have to "wait to see" on Holliday's status for Game 7. Carpenter started at first base and batted second, Craig shifted from first to left field and Beltran slid back a spot to third while playing right field.With Vogelsong on the mound to pace San Francisco's scintillating start and Carpenter struggling again, Holliday's absence might not have mattered much."We've had some games where we stack on runs and then we go absolutely hitless almost, for a while, or anything of impact," Matheny said. "But at any day we know that our offense can pull out quite a bit of production. Hopefully it's (Monday)."

OFFSEASON

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

blakleyssdurant_1280x720_681787459728.jpg

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

BOSTON -- With more salary cap space than they've ever had along with a slew of clear and well-defined needs, the Celtics are sure to be one of the busier teams when free agency begins on Friday.

And while the Celtics’ needs may be all over the place, there is one thing that head coach Brad Stevens and the rest of the Boston Celtics have made no secret about wanting to come away with this offseason.

“The need for increased versatility,” Stevens said.

Indeed, Stevens envisions the NBA becoming more of a position-less league going forward.

When you look at the Cleveland Cavaliers rallying from a 3-1 deficit to knock off Golden State, of course LeBron James was brilliant as well as Kyrie Irving. 

But one of the more stealth keys to that series that factored into its outcome, was the way Cleveland's 6-foot-9 power forward/center Tristan Thompson was able to hold his own defensively against two-time league MVP guard, 6-3 Stephen Curry.

His play was as clear an example of the value in having players with defensive versatility as you will find.

It also has value on the offensive end of the floor as well. 

That helps explain why LSU’s Ben Simmons was selected with the top overall pick, a player with power forward size (6-10, 240) with point guard-like vision.

And in many ways it speaks to why the Celtics decided to draft Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick instead of a playmaker like Providence College’s Kris Dunn or sharpshooters like Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield or Kentucky’s Jamal Murray.

Brown stands 6-7, weighs 223 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan with elite athleticism and quickness getting to the paint. 

“Very few guys can move like Jaylen, can move at his size and at his length,” Stevens said. “So the defensive versatility is a big piece of that; that should be transferable right away.”

As for free agency, the same mantra – seek out versatile players – will remain in effect for Boston.

Of course Kevin Durant is at the top of the Celtics’ free agent wish list after Durant reportedly included Boston on the list of teams he will meet with in New York shortly after free agency begins.

In addition to the Celtics and his current team Oklahoma City, Durant is also planning to talk with officials from the following teams: Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and San Antonio.

Along with Durant, the Celtics are also expected to express interest in Atlanta’s Al Horford; New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson; and possibly Golden State’s Harrison Barnes who will be a restricted free agent which often serves as a deterrent for potential suitors. However, Barnes could wind up being an unrestricted free agent if the Warriors feel as though they will land Durant.

Regardless of which free agents wind up in Boston, you can count on versatility being one of their strengths.

“I only look at the game in four spots; ball-handlers, wings, guys that can play that three-swing spot (some power forward as well as small forward) and bigs,” Stevens said. “The more versatile, the more position-less, the better. That overall provides more opportunities than it does not. That’s a positive when you talk about guys that can do different things at different positions.”

Morning Skate: Stamkos destined to wind up somewhere new

cp-morning-skate.jpg

Morning Skate: Stamkos destined to wind up somewhere new

Here are the links from all around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while happy to be back in the city of Boston.

*The Buffalo Sabres don’t sound happy about the accusations against Evander Kane that cropped up during NHL Draft weekend, why would they be?

*NHL teams can now start discussing free agents, exchanging ideas with them and start the chase up to July 1.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the biggest winners in the 2016 NHL Draft. Here’s a shocker: the Bruins aren’t among them.

*A good piece from Alex Prewitt on the importance of the land line phones on the draft floor during NHL Draft weekend.

*The Edmonton Oilers are another team that didn’t come out of draft weekend with a defenseman, and are still in search of their back end help.

*A nice piece on Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Pascal Laberge, who could have been plucked by the Bruins at No. 29 rather than Trent Frederic.

*Bruce Garrioch has his Sunday NHL notes, and says that Steven Stamkos appears destined to play somewhere other than Tampa Bay.

*For something completely different: Jonah Keri has TV critic Alan Sepinwall on his podcast, and one can only hope it’s to explain how and why he could have disliked last week’s episode of Game of Thrones.

Quotes, notes and stars: Wright "today was tough"

red-sox-steven-wright.jpg

Quotes, notes and stars: Wright "today was tough"

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-3 loss to the Rangers:

 

QUOTES

* “On a night when he didn’t have the consistency to the knuckleball that we’ve seen from many of his starts, he went to his fastball a little bit more. [Against] a good fastball hitting team . . . He’s typically made good adjustments staying over the rubber to get his release point out front -- that wasn’t the case [tonight].” John Farrell said about Steven Wright struggling with his knuckleball in his 4.2 inning outing.

* “The ball was spinning a lot out of my hand. It was a little bit hard to grip the ball because the humidity. But it was the opposite -- it was real sticky. That’s the first time I’ve had that ever. But I still felt like I should have figured that out. It was one of those things where I think I started trying to hard . . . I was trying to the throw the kitchen sink at them but it wasn’t working.” Steven Wright said about struggling to find his knuckleball in the 10-3 loss.

* “It’s hard for me because you want to go out there and try and go as deep as you can to try to help the bullpen, but, you know, today was tough, a tough day for me.” Wright said on his disappointment with only going 4.2 innings.

 

 

NOTES

 

* Hanley Ramirez laced his fourth homerun in his last 11 games. In his nine career games at Texas, Ramirez has six homeruns.

* David Ortiz went hitless for the first time since June 12th. Boston’s designated hitter also hasn’t hit a home run since June 17th -- his third longest homerless spell of 2016.

* Xander Bogaerts scored his 57th run of the season, putting him one run behind Ian Kinsler -- the fourth highest total in the majors.

 

 

STARS

 

1) Adrian Beltre

The ex-Red Sox third baseman finished 2-for-4 with an RBI, a walk -- scoring the team high three runs.

 

2) Ian Desmond

Desmond laced his 13th homer of the season in his second at-bat of the game, sparking Texas’ offense with its first run of the game.

 

3) Elvis Andrus

Andrus ended Steven Wright’s day quickly with a three-run triple in the fifth inning, finishing 1-for-2 with two walks and a run.