Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Rusney Castillo, My U.S. Open Prediction and Some EPL Thoughts

With classes beginning tomorrow morning, I thought I’d get a post up tonight before I’m swamped with back to school meetings and work. This post will be a collection of some sports related thoughts from the last few days.

I’ll start with the Red Sox’s signing of Cuban defector Rusney Castillo over the weekend to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal. Having never seen him play, my gut reaction to the deal is that it seems like an awful lot of money for a player who has yet to prove himself at this level. I know most of the recent Cuban arrivals have worked out, but there is no guarantee that Castillo will do the same. This signing also doesn’t fit the mold of a team that has declared itself a frugal spender on the free agent market. Should he struggle, I expect to hear a lot of  people asking why this money couldn’t have been added on to an extension for Jon Lester earlier this summer.

The new center fielder is described as having a plus bat, but with middling levels of power. He’s a slightly above average defender but he certainly won’t be Jackie Bradley Jr. out there. (For the record, watching Bradley play center field has probably been my favorite part of this season.) And Castillo’s not a speed demon either. All in all, he sounds like a good player, but not a superstar. Yet comparisons are made to Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes himself said Castillo is a better player than he. Based on the scouting reports I’ve read, something has to give.

But don’t get me wrong. I do like the deal, as I think it puts the Red Sox in a position of power this offseason, with an abundance of talented players they can use as trade bait in potential deals for the Giancarlo Stanton or Cole Hamels types. The outfield now includes Castillo, Cespedes and Allen Craig, three talented hitters, plus Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. All of these players carry value. My guess at this point is that Craig, Nava and Bradley Jr. won’t be around next year, but it could easily be Cespedes and Victorino making way.

This signing is yet another statement from the Red Sox management that they will make all the effort they can to put a World Series contending team on the field next year. Worst to first to worst to first might be within reach. Adding frontline pitching remains a must, but the offense looks like it will be much improved. It’s not often a team struggling as badly as the Red Sox can have such reason for optimism. I hope we get our first taste of Castillo in Boston soon.

Switching to tennis, the U.S. Open starts tomorrow. I say this about a lot of things, but the event is truly one of my favorites. It will be tough for me to watch a lot of the action in the early going, but I will tune in when I can. Night tennis in Arthur Ashe Stadium is spectacular. And the music on the ESPN U.S. Open commercials gets me every time. It must be love.

I’ll have more to say in the next two weeks about the tennis itself, potentially picking the results of the later matches, but today I’m just going to offer my prediction for the winners. On the women’s side, I like Simona Halep to win it all. She has been climbing the ladder to stardom recently, and I think she will find it in New York.

On the men’s side, I think Roger Federer will finally get another Grand Slam title. Playing in front of the sport’s biggest crowds that will be on his side at all times, Federer will ride the wave of support all the way to title. He will look young again. As long as I’ve followed tennis, it feels like veteran, big name players have performed better in the U.S. Open than in any other major. There might be early upsets, but the stars are always there in the end. Federer has been playing well recently, and he won’t have to play Novak Djokovic until the final in this tournament. Without Rafael Nadal in his way this time, I think we’ll see Roger lifting the trophy in a fortnight.

And now to the EPL. This morning, I tuned in to the Sunderland-Manchester United match to check up on the relegation battle. To me, there was no question that Sunderland looked the better side today. United were sloppy and had no spark to their play. Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney were largely invisible up front, and defensively, the storied side were a joke. I don’t understand why the supposed tactical genius that is van Gaal is forcing the 3-5-2 on his team. They are simply not built for it, as they neither possess any true wing backs at the moment nor any talent at center back. If the defense is so bad they need a back five against Sunderland, how many will they need back against the likes of Chelsea?

Watching United drop points has become as regular as my trips to the grocery store. It’s getting increasingly funny. The seemingly imminent arrival of Angel di Maria adds a fantastic player to their squad, but it doesn’t address any of their problems right now. Van Gaal’s system also will see di Maria moved away from areas of the pitch in which he is most comfortable – assuming van Persie and Rooney remain up top with Juan Mata in the hole behind them. United will have spent an astounding amount of money this summer without addressing any of their biggest needs.

Tomorrow’s Liverpool-Manchester City match should be a fascinating one. Neither team was particularly impressive in their wins last weekend, and each will be looking to lay their claim as the league’s best side. With Mario Balotelli joining up with Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge has a point to prove. He and Balotelli would make an odd pairing up front, one I don’t expect to succeed long term. Sturridge has been on fire in the last year and should have the starting spot locked down going forward should Liverpool elect to play with a lone striker. But he’ll need to do a lot today to quiet all of the Balotelli fans out there. My prediction for this match is a 2-2 draw.

And lastly, the more I thought about the Arsenal game yesterday, the more satisfied I became with the result. We are incredibly lucky to be at four points after these first two Premier League matches. Things could easily be a lot worse. It was always going to be a tough stretch with players coming back late due to the World Cup. But as long as they get through Wednesday’s vital Champions League match, the team should come out of it fine. Arsene Wenger could be breathing a large sigh of relief soon.

 


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Saying Goodbye to the 2014 Red Sox As I Head Back to College

Today marks the end of summer for me, as I begin my drive back down to school. It’s been a good one. The first few weeks were dedicated to watching Lost, a life-changing odyssey for sure. Then came the fantastic World Cup and the inception of this blog. When people ask if my summer has been a success, I’ll say a resounding yes, pointing to the blog as the main reason. Writing so much has made me a lot more comfortable putting my thoughts down, and I’ll be all the better for it as I sit down to write essays for class and articles for my school newspaper.

But I have no intention of shutting the blog down. I obviously won’t have the time to watch Boston sports every night, so content will be a little more sporadic on that front. But I will certainly have something for every Arsenal game, and probably one or two other pieces each week. I might have to do some North Carolina sports coverage. Expect no fewer than four posts a week for now, however that could change as I get a feel for my new schedule this semester. Keeping the blog alive and well remains a high priority of mine, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

A year ago when I left in August, I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d be back for some October baseball. Even when I was at school, the soon to be World Series Champs were a must watch. I made it back for a playoff game, and the rest I watched as intently as ever. My Red Sox goodbye wasn’t really a goodbye at all last year. Check out an entertaining piece I wrote for my school paper about my Red Sox fandom last October to get the full sense.

But on Monday night at Fenway, I said my goodbyes to the 2014 Red Sox. With no postseason baseball ahead of us, and a roster that will look an awful lot like the Paw Sox the rest of the way, I don’t think I’ll be making the return trip to Fenway in October. I will absolutely follow the team, but this just isn’t our year. At least there won’t be any heartbreak. I can sit back and enjoy baseball as a neutral, something I haven’t had to do too often.

There are a few intriguing Red Sox story lines for the last month or so of the season though. David Ortiz’s quest for 500 home runs is officially on, as he now stands at 461 after another one last night. He has quietly put together another 30 home run season already, and if he stays hot, he could get to 40 for the year. That would leave him needing only 29 next year, which would be very doable. With retirement on the horizon as his contract expires next year, Ortiz will be eager to join the 500 home run club as soon as possible. There is no way he will retire if he’s anywhere close, but I have a feeling he might get there next year.

The other thing to watch will be the struggling players. Us fans can forget this horrible year of baseball once Tom Brady heats up, but players like Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. will not be in good places this offseason if they don’t right their own ships. Their loss of confidence has affected their play recently, and that can’t drag into next year. But those who could use a late season boost are not just restricted to young players. Dustin Pedroia too will be much better off next year if he has a good September. And from GM Ben Cherington’s standpoint, he wants players to snap out of season long funks to prove to potential trade partners that the funks are nothing more than that.

And lastly, the starting pitchers are all auditioning for a role in the 2015 rotation at this point in the season. Joe Kelly has a spot locked down, as does Clay Buchholz presumably. But between Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rose and Brandon Workman, there probably aren’t three places next year. All three have all performed well at times, going through the expected ups and downs of a young pitcher, but nobody has guaranteed themselves a spot next year. More than anyone else, those three pitchers have incentive to be at their best through the end of the year. De la Rosa probably has the advantage right now, but it’s anyone’s game.

So while I won’t be returning to Fenway until next year, it’ll still be worth my time to check in on the grainy internet feeds of Red Sox games every once in a while. And considering my dismal record at games this year – I must have been 2-8 or something like that – the team might be better off without me there. Regardless of where I am, my team is never far from my heart. So long, summer.


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Grazing In the Sports World Grass

I wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of my favorite sports writers with this piece, using the style of Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy’s “Picking Up the Pieces” articles. In it, I will hit on many topics with only a single paragraph. My current title is a work in progress for this segment going forward. If you have a better idea, put the name in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94).

The Patriots begin their preseason tonight against the Washington Redskins. In what is pretty much his only action of the entire year, Ryan Mallett will see the majority of the snaps tonight at quarterback. The former Razorback deserves a shot in the NFL due to his physical tools, and I think his time is running out to earn a trade to start games somewhere else. Not much else happens in the preseason opener, so make sure to keep your eye on Mallett.

Following that, I am getting excited quickly for the coming Arkansas football season. I fully understand that the degree of difficulty of the schedule (many say the Hogs have the toughest schedule in the country) could make progress hard to see this year, but I fully believe in what Bret Bielema is doing to rebuild the program. I really like the way the offensive line is shaping up, and it makes me giddy to think about the trio of highly regarded running backs hitting the holes. This team will begin to resemble the Houston Nutt Razorback teams from the Darren McFadden era, and in my mind that’s a good thing. If Casey Dick was good enough to ride his running backs to successful seasons, why can’t Brandon Allen? I’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks, but the August 30 opener at Auburn can’t get here soon enough.

Moving to baseball, I was really impressed with Joe Kelly on the mound for the first time with the Red Sox last night. There hasn’t been a good sinkerballer in Boston in a while, and last night the new arrival showed he has top notch stuff on the hill. He isn’t a number one starter by any means, but he could be a solid number two or three on a great team. It was also fun to see him beat out a ground ball base hit – I hope other Red Sox players were taking notes. And it was also good to see Xander Bogaerts turning it around at the plate. His struggles have gone on far too long for a player as talented as he is.

To basketball, news has broken this morning that the Kevin Love to Cleveland trade we’ve all been waiting for has been all but confirmed. Minnesota should be happy enough with the return – two number one overall picks plus a first rounder for a player who would have left for nothing in a year is a good deal. I can’t wait to watch Love play with LeBron James. Think about all of the fast break dunks LeBron will get from Love’s outlet passes. It is a match made in heaven. With perimeter threats on the roster, Love will also be able to play in the post more than he ever could in Minnesota, and I expect him to reach new heights this year on the block. He is one of my favorite two or three players to watch in the NBA, and I’m glad he will get a shot to play for a championship. I don’t think this puts Cleveland above San Antonio, but they are certainly the favorites in the East.

All is quiet on the Celtics front these days. Looking at the roster, there is a lot of redundancy as it currently stands. Shooting guard in particular is full of talented individuals who won’t be happy with sitting on the bench. Marcus Thornton is the name that makes the least sense on the this roster given his age and ability. I think he’s gone before December. And with Vitor Faverani making the news for the wrong reasons, he too could find himself looking for a new job before long. When there isn’t any other news, getting arrested for drunk driving is not a smart move for a player on the fringe of the team.

To Arsenal, there isn’t much in the news this morning other than that Theo Walcott’s return to training is scheduled for the end of the month. As I’ll say in a post in the near future about Walcott, I think he has a key role to play in the coming season, and getting him on the field as soon as possible will be vital for Arsenal’s success. And there is also the confirmation from Arsene Wenger that Manchester United have officially lodged a bid for Thomas Vermaelen, but that’s hardly news at this point. I’m ready for transfer rumors to stop so that the talk can be about the play on the field again. Is it Sunday yet?

And yesterday brought about the retirement of Howard Webb, the high profile Premier League referee who was in charge of the 2010 World Cup Final. He is a tremendous referee and his authority on the field will be missed. I was trying to think about Arsenal matches he had done recently, but none came to mind. I picture him doing Manchester United matches. But apparently after United, Arsenal has done the second best of any team with him in charge. I guess we’ll miss him in more ways than one.

Lastly, I have formed a Fantasy Premier League league for all to join. I’m not a big fan of fantasy sports in general, but the Premier League does it excellently – for all who don’t know, the league’s official website hosts the game which features a FA Cup style cup among all the millions of participants in the second half of the year – and it’s a wonderful way to keep up with players across the entire league. The league is under this blog’s name on fantasy.premierleague.com. Click join private league – the passcode to join is 1154525-274716. I’ll be trying to get as many people as I can to play, so please join even if you’re only slightly interested. Tell your friends as well.

That’s all for now. Have a great day and thanks for reading.


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Emirates Cup Wrap-Up, Clay Buchholz and Paul George

As I previously mentioned, I wasn’t able to watch the Arsenal-Monaco game yesterday morning. I monitored the game via Twitter and tried to find extended highlights, so I have a pretty good sense of what happened, but there isn’t all that much from the match itself that I can fairly analyze. Overall, it’s disappointing to miss out on winning the Emirates Cup on home turf yet again, but at the end of the day, the results aren’t what matter.

What I gleaned from the stuff I’ve watched and read was that a few of the Arsenal players looked to be a bit behind on their fitness. Olivier Giroud in particular looked a long way off from being ready for the new season. It’s entirely understandable given the World Cup and his late arrival at preseason, but it’s now looking like it may take at least until the end of the month for Arsenal’s main striker to be ready for extended game action.

However, any fears about Giroud’s absence were surely lessened on Saturday when Yaya Sanogo scored four goals against Benfica. It also looks like Arsene Wenger is quite comfortable playing Alexis Sanchez through the middle, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sanchez start up front against Manchester City next weekend in the FA Community Shield. And even Chuba Akpom could be a decent option up top if need be, as he once again showed himself quite well against Monaco yesterday in a substitute appearance.

With the German contingent still yet to return to training, Wenger’s options in certain areas will be limited when he selects his team next weekend. A trophy is on the line though, so he can’t run out an entirely inexperienced and experimental side. At this point, I think I would like to see a lineup of Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Debuchy, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Yaya Sanogo take the field at Wembley on Sunday. Joel Campbell might also be in line for a start.

Other than fitness issues and an obvious penalty that wasn’t given late on, my only issue with the game was Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion in the starting lineup for the second day in a row. Ramsey is unquestionably Arsenal’s most important player at this point. And he picked up an unfortunate injury last winter due to overuse. So why Wenger thinks it’s a good idea to play Ramsey two days in a row in preseason is beyond me. Maybe it would have made sense to play him another half today to get him some more game action in the abbreviated summer, but he was on the pitch long after halftime. This wasn’t Wenger’s smartest move in my opinion.

Switching to baseball, watching the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball last night felt odd given the events of the last week in Boston baseball. This is certainly not a team built for primetime at the moment. The fact that Clay Buchholz is the de facto ace of the staff for the rest of the year is a scary thought for all those interested in fast-paced, low-scoring baseball. A Buchholz with no confidence against the Yankees in a nationally televised game is a recipe for a four and a half hour marathon. Who doesn’t love those games especially when the teams are bad?

But the bigger issue is Buchholz on the mound these days. Something needs to happen to get him in a mental place where he can pitch with confidence again, and I’m not sure getting hammered every fifth day is going to do the job. It’s strange to think about how he was thought about a year ago at this point, when he was the pitcher who was going to take the Red Sox to the World Series upon his return from injury. But now that he’s finally healthy, he’s been terrible all year. Maybe a trip back to the DL for shoulder tightness will allow him to take a break in order to get right mentally. It’s not like the Red Sox would lose anything with him not on the mound.

And on another note, while I think it’s a shame Paul George got hurt playing for his country in summer basketball, that injury should not mean the NBA needs to ban its players from participating in international tournaments. Injuries like the one he suffered can happen anywhere, anytime. Even if players aren’t competing officially, they’ll be out doing workouts on their own, playing pick-up basketball as well. And leg injuries are just as likely to happen then. So there is no need for overreaction. Fortunately for all of us who love international basketball, Adam Silver is a very reasonable man, and I think he’ll see this issue clearly.


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Day 2 of The Emirates Cup and Some Red Sox Thoughts

After a spectacular day at The Emirates Cup yesterday (see my recap here if you missed it), Arsenal are back at it today against Monaco. The unconventional scoring system of the two-day competition sees Arsenal in the lead by a large margin after the 5-1 rout of Benfica yesterday, so there might be a trophy (albeit not a real one) raised by the Gunners later today. With a real trophy up for grabs next weekend, another strong performance today could set the club up for a wonderful start to the 2014/2015 campaign.

This is essentially the last preseason game of the summer, and while we are all ready for the season to begin, I’m sure Arsene Wenger would have liked another game or at least a little more time with the late World Cup arrivals. The German contingent won’t see a single minute of preseason action, and Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will only have today’s game. Many of the players look ready, but some are still a ways off fitness-wise.

Today’s match will be all about Alexis Sanchez, who will start and play the first half alongside Giroud up top. Given only a short time to form any sort of connection on the field, it will be pivotal that they learn how to play with one another quickly. The match will also be big for Jack Wilshere in the midfield, who will look to build on last week’s positive showing against the Red Bulls in his deeper role on the pitch.

It will also be the unofficial debut of Mathieu Debuchy at right back, who will have a hard time surpassing the performance of young Hector Bellerin yesterday. The defense in general has not looked particularly sound this preseason, but it’s hard to criticize when players are out of position and haven’t played with one another. Getting Koscielny and Debuchy on the same page today will be a start, but it will be down to work on the training ground once Per Mertesacker returns to get this defense ready to go.

The lineup I expect to see today at the start of the match is as follows: Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Ignasi Miquel, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. There will be some cameos from players who started yesterday, and one of Monreal or Kieran Gibbs will start again at left back. I think it would only be fair to let Monreal play a game at his natural position, so I’d give him the nod. Expect Chuba Akpom to take over for Sanchez at the half.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch today’s match. With a spotty internet connection and only Spanish commentary to listen to, I think this is one I can miss. Had yesterday’s match not been so satisfying, I might have felt worse about missing it, but instead, I’ll be out on the links with my brother and a couple of his friends. I’ll have something to say after watching match highlights, but I won’t be able to do player ratings for this one. Best of luck to the team today.

Now to the Red Sox. For the first time in forever, I’ve been excited to turn on the games this series. While the team will be out of contention for the last two months, a mixture of new players and youth will make the Red Sox watchable the rest of the way. The lineup now contains players capable of getting hits, and while we might lose games 8-5, we’ll still score more runs than the team did when A.J. Pierzynski was batting sixth. At least this style of bad baseball will be more enjoyable. And an outfield with both Yoenis Cespedes and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be fun to watch every time out.

Allen Webster was on the mound yesterday and once again he failed to impress. In my eyes, he’s a poor man’s Daisuke Matsuzaka right now – a player who doesn’t want to challenge hitters in the strike zone. Webster has the stuff of a major league pitcher, but he looks like he’s afraid to throw strikes this year. The memories of throwing too many strikes and getting destroyed on the mound last year must be clear as day in his mind, because it’s evident that he’s shying away from contact. When a pitcher hasn’t established himself, pitches off the strike zone are always going to be called balls. The walks will quickly pile up like they did yesterday. Even if you don’t get hit hard, walking the bases loaded will lead to disaster more often than not.

I think Webster needs to try attacking hitters again at the major league level. He’s a better pitcher now than he was a year ago, and he can’t shy away from hitters any longer. If he wants to keep his spot in the starting rotation for the rest of the season, he’ll need to prove his stuff can translate to this level. Otherwise, Anthony Renaudo showed himself to be more than capable on Friday.