Playing nine innings while savoring the embarrassed silence from those who detracted Dustin Pedroia during last season's mess ...
1. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, which spans 118 games and 531 plate appearances, Jacoby Ellsbury has hit five home runs. Five. That's three fewer homers than he hit in September 2011, when his Most Valuable Player-caliber performance down the stretch (1.067 OPS in the final month) was buried beneath his teammates' avalanche of beer cans and chicken bones during the infamous collapse. His lack of power since may seem mystifying, and perhaps his emergence as a slugger that season (32 homers, 23 more than he has hit in any other season) is easily dismissed as a fluke. I'm probably among the minority in believing that he will hit for significant power before the season is through, and that his return to full strength from the traumatic injury pictured above still isn't complete. But if he doesn't come around, it'll be fascinating to see how it affects his market value. It wouldn't shock me at all if he signed an Adrian Beltre-style one-year deal here or elsewhere to rebuild his value before diving back into free agency. But such a consideration is a long way down the road.
2. For those of us who have spent the first couple months of the season debating the current and potential merits of Jose Iglesias, a compromise may be near. According to the Providence Journal's excellent baseball writer Brian MacPherson, Iglesias took groundballs at third base Monday, and first took grounders at second base a couple of weeks ago. Nothing is apparently imminent, but given that Pedro Ciriaco is proving to be a mirage, bringing Iglesias back to the big leagues in a utility role might make some sense.
3. Daniel Nava just keeps raking. In 61 May plate appearances, he's at .286/.377/.469, with a couple of homers and 11 runs batted in. It's easy to forget – or at least it was easy for me to forget – that he was actually just as productive last May as well, putting up a .277/.424/.477 slash line with two homers and 15 RBIs in 85 plate appearances. He had an excellent June as well (.892) before falling off in part due to a hand injury. I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: I was wrong about Nava. He's a legitimate quality major-league hitter. Kudos to the Red Sox for recognizing it.
4. This is Josh Hamilton since the All-Star break last year: 113 games, 482 plate appearances, 434 at-bats, 107 hits, .247 batting average, 21 homers, 65 RBIs, 36 walks, 134 strikeouts. In that span, he's basically produced the equivalent of Pete Incaviglia's 1988 season. Thank goodness the Red Sox learned from their mistakes.
5. This came up in my chat last Friday, and I can't recall if I answered the question or not, but the suggestion annoyed me. No, Yu Darvish doesn't remind me of Daisuke Matsuzaka whatsoever. I suppose the Rangers' ace is what Matsuzaka was supposed to be, but they don't have much in common beyond the ability to throw a baseball righthanded and the same country of origin. Darvish, with his ridiculous repertoire, is a joy to watch. Matsuzaka was exasperating, and that includes even during his scattered outstanding performances, because you were inevitably left wondering why he couldn't perform that way (and pitch aggressively) all the time.
6. Allow me to submit this as evidence that Rubby De La Rosa is going to be a significant contributor in some capacity for the Red Sox before the summer is through: In his last five appearances with the PawSox, he has pitched 18 innings. in those 18 innings, he has allowed 9 hits, 8 walks, and 1 unearned run while striking out 22. While the walks suggest the command isn't quite there yet, he's been untouchable when he throws strikes. And remember, he's no novice – this is a kid who struck out 60 in 60.2 innings for the Dodgers two years ago.
7. Miguel Cabrera's top five career comps through age 29 according to baseball-reference.com: Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, and Mel Ott. Yeah, decent company. Cabrera turned 30 a month ago. To me, he's a Hall of Fame lock if he retires before his 31st birthday.
8. Cabrera, whom I hope wins his second consecutive Triple Crown just because it would be an awesome feat, has received MVP votes every season of his career -- including 2003, when he played 87 games and hit .268 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs, and a .793 OPS for the World Champion 2003 Marlins. He finished 27th in the balloting that year, and fifth in the rookie of the year race, behind teammate Dontrelle Willis, No. 3 hitter deluxe Scott Podsednik, Brandon Webb, and Marlon Byrd.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
During this week's segment with Adam 12 and Steve Silva on RadioBDC, we discuss the Red Sox' 5-1 start to their road trip, the success of David Ortiz and struggles of Jacoby Ellsbury, and how wardrobe decisions are helping team camaraderie, with random shots at my wardrobe scattered about. Listen for the baseball, stay for the cheap shots about my nice blue shirt from Kohl's.
Is the kid really this good?
Are they really this good?
We'll start with the latter question first, since we can clear this one out of the way like Tuukka Rask casually sweeping aside an unthreatening shot.
I don't know. I don't, neither do you, and I'm pretty sure Claude Julien, Cam Neely, and Peter Chiarelli don't know, either. I mean, yes, obviously, what we've seen from the Bruins through two games and two victories in the Eastern Conference semifinals is buoying and encouraging.
Maybe their relentless, often dominating 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers Sunday in Game 2 of their series is foreshadowing big things ahead.
But you know ... it's these guys. The core of this team, with one very notable absence, brought Boston a parade two years ago, and it's not far-fetched right now to believe right now that they're capable of hoisting the Stanley Cup again.
But they haven't always handed postseason prosperity well. They have a maddening habit of self-inflicting unnecessary degrees of difficulty, not only during the first-round series with the Leafs, but throughout the second-half of the regular season. The city loves this team, and it should. But they don't always make it easy, and I find it hard to believe they'll knock out the Rangers without having to fend off some counter-punches.
A quick inventory of the Rangers reminds us that they have an all-world goalie (albeit one in Henrik Lundqvist who gave up five goals Sunday for the first time since March 2011), a coach who acts like he'd choke the air out of a fourth-line forward just to watch him wheeze, a core of defensemen who block shots with no regard for their front teeth and orbital bones, a captain in Ryan Callahan who would be beloved in Boston, and a sniper in Rick Nash who appears to be waking from his slumber.
They have a lot, and a 2-0 hole won't faze them. Somewhere near the first tee, the Capitals are nodding in agreement. It would shock me if the Bruins don't win this series. It would surprise me if they wipe out the Rangers with the ease of Sunday afternoon.
But to say the Bruins will make it hard on themselves solely because that's who they are is to dismiss the coolest development of this series so far, one that perhaps alters their makeup in a good way.
I'm talking about the emergence of the kid, and given that Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton have all rescued the Bruins on their seemingly depleted blueline to some degree in this series, I should probably specify which kid. But if you watched Sunday's game, you probably know the answer in advance.
Where have you been all winter and spring, Torey Krug? Actually, the literal answer is Providence, where the offensively gifted 5-foot-9-inch defenseman scored 13 goals in his first professional season after scoring a dozen his final year at Michigan State.
He had all of three NHL games to his credit when he was recalled last week after Dennis Seidenberg, Mr. Dependable especially this time of year, was injured in Game 7 against the Leafs. With Andrew Ference already out and Wade Redden also nicked up, Julien had no choice to turn to the underclassmen.
While Hamilton is the heir apparent at 19, and Bartkowski is the "old" man with the reprieve – the 24-year-old was supposed to go to the Flames in the Jarome Iginla deal – it's Krug who has the most compelling argument that he was born to be a Bruin.
He arrived on April 12, 1991 – the off-day between Games 5 and 6 of the Bruins' playoff series with the Hartford Whalers. That team was coached by Mike Milbury, starred Cam Neely, and eventually lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to a Penguins squad that included Mark Recchi and – you know it – Jaromir Jagr.
Perhaps Krug could take Jagr aside before Game 3 and give him some tips on turning chances into goals.
All right, that's a two-minute minor for cheap facetiousness. Really, I'm not ready to suggest losing Seidenberg was anything close to a blessing in disguise. He is essential, and they will need him along the way. Ideally, they would have found out what Krug can do without having an injury to Seidenberg serve as the catalyst.
But there's rarely room for let's-give-this-kid-a-chance idealism in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it has been a pleasure discovering that Krug can be a catalyst for a Bruins' offense that has received production from unlikely sources. (Johnny Boychuk and Gregory Campbell joined Krug, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand as goal-scorers Sunday.)
Krug scored the tying goal on the power play in the third period of Game 1, and watching his skill in that situation instantly suggested that he may be part of the solution to their annual power-play woes. He was that poised, that polished.
Sunday, he was even more impressive, performing like some sort of Brian Rafalski/Greg Hawgood-circa-1989 hybrid. He scored the Bruins' first goal, and he did it in style. Taking a pass from Nathan Horton just outside the left faceoff circle, the puck slipped between his skates. Krug deftly poked it from right to left behind his left skate, corralled it, and fired a wrist shot past Lundqvist, who surely wasn't expecting that.
He later picked up an assist on Campbell's goal, his shot ricocheting off Dan Girardi's skate and leaving a juicy rebound, which Campbell obligingly backhanded into the net. It was a fine day for an established upper-echelon veteran, let alone a player whose focus was on a series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a week ago.
Krug's goal is a lock for the Bruins season highlight real. And yet it might not have been my favorite play he made in Sunday's game. Did you catch this one? Pierre McGuire sure did.
With about three minutes left in the second period, Krug collected the puck in the corner, swerved from left to right behind Tuukka Rask's net, then, as if he'd hit the turbo button on his skates, took off down the middle of the ice, breaking free through the Rangers' helpless attempts at forechecking.
"That's what you do, skate yourself out of troub .... WOW,'' blurted McGuire, NBC's rinkside analyst.
After zipping through the neutral zone and into Lundqvist's consciousness, he pulled off a half-spin and left the puck for Horton, who fired a rocket that the goalie managed to deflect.
As the Boston crowd – appreciative of a defenseman who can rush from end to end for at least the past 45 years or so – roared, McGuire noted that Krug had never been drafted:
"Think the scouts made a mistake?,'' McGuire asked rhetorically.
Well, that much we're sure of. Krug can play.
But even with the fresh element he's brought, I'm not counting out the Rangers until the Bruins are the ones smiling in the handshake line.
I believe in the new kid. But I'm not bidding farewell to the old habits just yet.
Chat right here at 2:30. Will arrive early today. Honest.
Today's media column, in which I talk Bruins with Jack Edwards, rabid Bruins fans with Michael Felger, and include a few other newsy tidbits, can be found here.
Just for the sake of fun outtakes if nothing else, here is a thought from Edwards and another from Felger that didn't make today's column. And yes, I know we're already a game into the Rangers series. Still can't stop thinking about that Game 7. Imagine most of you understand ...
Edwards, on his mind-set when the Bruins fell behind, 4-1, in the third period of Game 7 to the Leafs: "The roller coaster went from having a little hope to, honestly, really having dismissed the team. As I said when the Leafs went up by three, they're taking it to the Bruins in their own barn.
"I was actually relieved when I heard Peter Chiarelli say on WEEI [Wednesday] he was already starting to think about exit interviews and his mind was starting to drift to free agents with the Bruins and the possibility of players on the other teams before the game was over. That's the direction my mind was starting to go, and I was just trying to concentrate on the game.
"But I started thinking about things like, 'Are they going to keep [Nathan] Horton?' 'Are they going to make Andrew Ference an offer?' And, 'What are they going to do?'
"And then Lucic scores with a buck and a half to go, and it was still really doubtful. My emotional state at that point was, years from now, people will look at the score and think it was a close game throughout when it wasn't. Crazy how it all turned out, isn't it?"
* * *
Felger, on the Comcast SportsNet New England cameras catching him getting fired up after Patrice Bergeron's tying and winning goals in Game 7: "A moment of weakness. What can you do? If that sort of thing doesn't get you excited, then you should go sell insurance. I can't help it.
"At least it wasn't in the press box. It was in the privacy of my own little studio.''It's pointed out to Felger that analyst Tony Amonte, sitting next to him at the desk, barely twitched.
"Nope," said Felger. "He played what, 17 years? So not a big deal to him. Big deal for the rest of us."
What do you say, Bruins fans? Three more in a row, just like that one, then on to the next series?
Not happening, of course. At least, not happening in a four-game sweep. Besides, our quota of improbable demands was met with the borderline miraculous comeback in Game 7 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Maple Leafs. After that, it's best to be realistic for a while.
The Leafs were not easily dismissed, and the Rangers won't be either. This is going to have to be earned, stride by stride and shot by shot.
The first pelt belongs to the Bruins, who did some fine work in gaining an advantage in the series Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime victory at TD Garden. It was a win that was every bit as hard-fought as the pre-series tale-of-the-tape between these two similar teams suggested.
For the Bruins, encouraging signs aren't hard to find. It was the Bruins' third straight overtime victory this postseason, and they're beginning to flash those saving-our-best-for-last characteristics reminiscent of their run to the Cup two years ago, when they won three seventh games along the way.
Of course, that may also have something to do with who is winning the games as much as it is how they are winning.
Brad Marchand, much-maligned during the Toronto series, scored the winner 4 minutes and 20 seconds into overtime off a lovely pass from Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron, of course, broke through with his instant-legend performance in Game 7 against the Leafs, but this was his linemate Marchand's first goal of the postseason.
Marchand, a.k.a. the Little Ball of Hate, is popular among Bruins fans for his feisty style, a talented nuisance with more than a little stylistic resemblance to Ken Linseman. But until last night, this postseason hadn't exactly gone his way. The second line, featuring Bergeron and the enigmatic Tyler Seguin, struggled against Toronto until the season was teetering on the brink.
Even Thursday wasn't perfect -- Marchand appeared to suffer an injury during the morning skate, fortunately a false alarm. And during NBC Sports Network's broadcast, he was referred to by Pierre McGuire as "Todd" Marchand, presumably an accidental reference to the erstwhile former Oiler and Duck, Todd Marchant, whose greatest career feat might have been that he was an unstoppable force on NHL '98.
To see Marchand's Thursday end well, just as Game 7 against the Leafs had a storybook flourish by Bergeron, is to be reminded of how essential both were in the run to the Cup two years ago, particularly in combining for all four goals in the title-clinching victory in Vancouver. To see them thriving now is to be reminded of what can happen when they are at their best.
But the true stars of the game for the Bruins were the defensemen, and not the usual suspects. Oh, yes, captain Zdeno Chara was brilliant, piercing Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the first goal, tormenting Rick Nash, and logging 38:02 minutes of ice time. But with his usual defensive partner, Dennis Seidenberg, sidelined with an injury suffered after 37 seconds of play in Game 7, and veterans Andrew Ference and Wade Redden also out, the Bruins had to turn to three young blueliners, two of whom were playing in the AHL playoffs just a few days ago.
And you know what? They saved the day. They did. Dougie Hamilton paired up with Chara and playing the part of a veteran, carrying over his strong performance from Game 7. Though he's a certain future star and just 19, it's not that much of a surprise to see him play well.
But Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug, postseason stalwarts? Yeah, didn't see that coming. Neither has a regular-season goal in the NHL, but now each has a playoff goal. Amazing. Any other defensemen in Providence who want to come up and join the party?
Bartkowski got his goal early in Game 7, and the swift puck-mover was again superb Thursday night while logging 26:42 of ice time, third only to Chara and Johnny Boychuk (26.55). Is it possible that it will be a blessing in disguise that the Jarome Iginla deal fell through and he never did become a Calgary Flame? I'm not ready to say it yet, and I suspect you aren't either. But the kid is playing very, very well. Bartkowski belongs.
Krug, I fear, is never going to make it here, at least until he learns to stop shooting the puck on the power play. I kid, but man, wasn't it refreshing to see him come out firing on the power play early in the third period after the Rangers had taken a 2-1 lead? His tying goal came with 17:05 left in regulation, the first of his career in just his fourth NHL game.
Given Lundqvist's habitual brilliance – it's almost a surprise when he gives up a goal – and a shot-blocking defense that is more than willing to risk facial reconstructive surgery if it means the puck has been safely detoured away from the net, three goals feels like a Bruins offensive onslaught in a way.
It wouldn't shock me if this is the first Stanley Cup playoff series in NHL history to go seven games, all settled in overtime. The Rangers – hard-hitting, deep, disciplined – are about as similar as it gets to the Bruins in philosophy and talent.
The only significant difference is that their coach, the hilariously brusque John Tortorella, carries himself like a soap-opera villain, while Bruins coach Claude Julien looks like he stepped out of the 1930-31 Montreal Maroons team photo.
It's a fascinating matchup, this first Bruins-Rangers postseason meeting since 1973. And Game 1 did not disappoint.
Get used to it. This is how it's going to be between these proud, similar teams. Probably all the way through a seventh game. And not to get too far ahead, but you might want to prepare for overtime for that one, too.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.