Sox face daunting opening hurdles

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Sox face daunting opening hurdles

DETROIT -- In each of the past two seasons, the Red Sox missed out on qualifying for the post-season. In 2010, decimated by injuries, they finished six games out of a playoff spot.

Last season, they fell a mere game short, thanks to a blown lead in the last inning of the last game of the season.

But those two seasons have something else in common: the Sox started poorly both years. The Sox kicked off 2010 by going 6-10 and didn't get get over the .500 mark until May 10.

A year ago, they were a disastrous 2-10 and didn't have a winning record until May 16.

In both seasons, the point could be made that a better start might have enabled them to reach the post-season.

This year, the need to get off to a better start is even more acute, thanks a more balanced American Leauge. But getting out of the gate strong will be made more difficult because of the early-season schedule.

The first 15 games the Sox play this year come against teams who were .500 or better a year ago. Of those 15, 12 are against playoff teams from last fall.

The gauntlet:

Three (currently) against the Detroit Tigers, who reached the ALCS last October, then added one of the game's best sluggers, Prince Fielder, to their already-formidable lineup.

Three against the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished 81-81 last season, but are considered one of the game's budding powers with a deep farm system.

Four against the Tampa Bay Rays, who overtook the Red Sox in Game No. 162 last September, qualifying for the post-season for the second straight year and third time in the last four seasons. The Rays probably boast the deepest starting rotation in either league.

Two against the Texas Rangers, who have won the American League pennant in each of the last two seasons. Enough said.

Three against the New York Yankees, who won the East last season, led the American League in victories and have capture the division title 11 times in the last 14 seasons.

If the Sox can survive the first 2 12 weeks, things do get easier in terms of competition.

Starting April 23, the schedule almost completely reverses itself, with a string of series against teams not expected to do much damage in 2012.

From that date, when the Sox begin their second road trip of the season, they'll play the next 22 games against Minnesota (three games); the White Sox (four games), Oakland A's (three
games), Baltimore Orioles (three games), Kansas City Royals (three games), Cleveland Indians (four games) and Seattle Mariners (two games).

In fact, the Sox will go 3 12 weeks matched against teams who aren't expected to contend.

Getting there in good shape, however, will be a challenge.

Russell Westbrook wins NBA MVP; Rockets, Bucks take two awards

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Russell Westbrook wins NBA MVP; Rockets, Bucks take two awards

NEW YORK - Russell Westbrook was voted NBA MVP on Monday night after setting a record with 42 triple-doubles last season.

Westbrook's victory ended the first NBA Awards show, which included two wins apiece for the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.

Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double for the season, and he broke Robertson's single-season record set when he had 41 triple-doubles in 1961-62.

The point guard beat out Houston's James Harden and San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard to succeed Stephen Curry, who had won the past two MVP awards.

Earlier, Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon became the first player not picked in the first round to win NBA Rookie of the Year in the common draft era.

Brogdon was the No. 36 overall selection out of Virginia. The common draft era began in 1966.

"I think it's an example for guys that are told they are too short, they are not athletic enough, they are not real point guards, they are not real shooting guards," Brogdon said. "I just think it's an important message for people to see, and it can be done. It just takes a lot."

Teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo won the Most Improved Player award.

Houston coach Mike D'Antoni won his second Coach of the Year award, and the Rockets' Eric Gordon was Sixth Man of the Year after setting a record for most 3-pointers off the bench in his first season as a reserve.

The NBA formerly gave out its individual awards at various points throughout the postseason before switching to the awards show this season and presenting them all at once in front of the league's top players and stars from the entertainment world.

Two of the best moments came during segments that didn't include the NBA's six individual awards.

Bill Russell was presented the first Lifetime Achievement award, welcomed on stage by fellow Hall of Fame centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. The 11-time champion as a player and the league's first black coach first pointed at them and joked that he would have kicked their butts, then told them: "You have no idea how much respect I have for you guys."

Former Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams was given the SagerStrong Award for the strength he showed after his wife was killed in a car crash in Oklahoma City. He was given a colorful jacket like the ones worn by Craig Sager, the longtime Turner Sports reporter who died of cancer this past season.

Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

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Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

BOSTON — Matt Barnes has been coping with more than just a few bad outings on the mound, and he’s asking for help.

The Red Sox set-up man made some mechanical corrections that paid off in the eighth inning Monday night, when he struck out all three Twins he faced in a 4-1 Red Sox win at Fenway Park.

“I just simplified the mechanics,” Barnes said afterward. “Two days ago, I was trying to get with more of an up, down, and out approach. I felt better in that outing. I know I gave up a run and walked the one guy, but I felt better around the zone. And then just kind of went into a slide step, doing what Andrew Miller was doing.”

Barnes allowed four runs spanning his previous three outings, retiring just four batters while walking five. But Barnes has had a lot more to worry about than just a brief professional rut. 

He’s been devoted to helping his girlfriend, Chelsea, through the unexpected loss of her father, who was diagnosed with cancer and suffered a stroke

"Her father passed away [May 27]. That’s why I wasn’t in Baltimore for the two days [in early June], I was at his funeral,” Barnes said. "It’s tough, dealing with that, and she’s obviously having a hard time with it. She’s got her good days and her bad days. But it’s not easy. He was sick for a little while, and unexpectedly passed a lot faster than anybody ever expected him to. So, it’s been tough. She’s been alright, considering.”

There are a ton of medical bills still to be paid. A fundraising page has been set up to help the family with some large medical bills, and Barnes has asked on Twitter for people to spread the word if they’re able to.

“I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with her which is nice,” Barnes said of his girlfriend. “Everybody who’s helped out with donations and spreading the page, I couldn’t be more grateful, and she couldn’t be more grateful.”

Barnes is a big leaguer, but he’s still young and making the major league minimum. For every $1,000 total donated, Barnes plans to send a signed baseball to a random donor.

“I felt like it was a nice way, if they’re going to help me out, I can at least do that in return for them,” Barnes said.