New York Yankees: April in Review

IMGP3377 Jacoby Ellsbury can hit, Carlos Beltran can play everywhere and the injury bug didn’t stay in 2013.

Let’s start on the injury front shall we?  They sure popped up early and often in April.  Mark Teixiera went down first with a grade 1 hamstring pull, and closer David Robertson quickly followed him onto the 15-day DL with a groin strain.  Both came back after the two weeks were up, and have looked good in a small sample size.  Then, Derek Jeter missed he final two games of the Red Sox series.  And in that final game (a win) against Boston, Francisco Cerveilli ended up on the 60-Day DL with a grade 2 hamstring strain, Brian Roberts went down with a back injury, and not to mention a scare with April revelation Yangervis Solarte. But the biggest loss? It came after a blowout loss against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Starter Ivan Nova, who many thought would have a break out season after a strong finish to 2013, is heading for season-ending Tommy John surgery.  The young righty has a torn UCL injury, which already claimed all of 2014 for another one of New York’s up-and-coming stars, the Mets Matt Harvey.  The month ends with Brett Gardner nursing a sore foot, and Ellsbury has a day-to-day hand issue.

Considering they started the season with 13-straight games (their first two series were in domes), coupled with the injuries, the Bombers should be very happy with their record.  It’s only April, and they’ve already changed their fortunes in the AL East.  They only won 6 games against Boston last year, yet they’ve already taken down the defending World Champs 6 times in one month of baseball here in 2014!  They lead the division early, only lost 2 series the entire month, and are over .500 in the East. Sabathia continues to search for a way to be successful with his new stuff, but one thing about the big guy you can’t take for granted. He gives you length every start. They might not be the sharpest innings late, but he finds a way to not kill your bullpen.

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Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – That 24-0 last season in Japan does NOT look like a fluke. Sure it’s early, and the league needs time to catch up, but man does Tanaka look like the real deal.  Tanaka’s 3-0 to start his MLB career and has a ridiculous 46 strikeouts to just 6 walks in 35.2 innings. His first start got off to a shaky start, giving up a lead-off homer to Toronto’s Melky Cabrera, but he sure settled down.  3-runs in 7 innings.  Then he did it again, going a complete 8 in a shut-out win over the Orioles, striking out 10 along the way in his Yankee Stadium debut. And what about his dominance over 8.1 against the Sox in Fenway! He’s been nothing short of dominant. His one bug-a-boo?  The long ball.  He’s so in the zone, that balls tend to fly out easily.  The good thing is they’ve been solo shots for the most part.  (Honorable Mention: Michael Pineda – I could’ve easily made him the best with his 2-1 record, minuscule 1.00 ERA coming off two years of arm issues.  If Tanaka has been number 1, Pineda has been 1a for the Yankees pitching staff. Too bad this all came to a screaming halt with a 10-game suspension due to pine tar, followed by a lat strain that will sideline him for another 3-4 weeks.)

Best Reliever: Shawn Kelly – Outside a bad outing in a non-save situation, Kelly did a wonderful job sliding into the closer role while Robertson was on the disabled list.  Adam Warren has the other save recorded this season, and without the legendary Mariano Rivera closing games, and a big injury to D-Rob, who would’ve thought they’d make it through April without any blown saves? (Honorable Mention: Adam Warren – He’s adjusted to the short reliever role very well.)

Best Hitter: Jacoby Ellsbury – For any Yankees fans that thought liking his former enemy would be hard, you were very wrong. He’s come in and not only torn the ball off the cover, he’s run the bases better than anyone this team has seen since a young Alfonso Soriano was stealing 40 a year. And no, I’m not omitting Brett Gardner here, who has blinding speed, but doesn’t always take advantage of it on the base paths. (Honorable Mention: Carlos Beltran – Power, power, power.  He leads the team in HRs, RBIs, OPS and Slugging %.  He’s been another great addition to the Yankees outfield and lineup.)

Biggest Surprise: Yangervis Solarte – He spent the first 7 years of his career in the minors. He wasn’t even supposed to make the team! Yet Solarte hit his way onto the team out of spring training, hitting Eduardo Nunez off the team completely.  He can and has played every position on the diamond and has done it well.  And talk about a doubles-machine!  He’s also tied with Beltran for the team lead in RBIs with 13.

Record vs AL East: 10-7

Overall Record: 15-11 (1st in the East)

So that was April.  Coming up in May, the Yankees are on the road a lot, including a 3-game series against the Leagues top team, the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Bombers also play their cross-town rivals, as well as the Nation League representatives in the World Series last year, the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Brooklyn’s Championship Hopes Take a Big Blow

528288_10151661322365555_824596039_nWell, just when you thought this team was getting healthy, they get hit with a huge loss.  All-Star Center Brook Lopez has suffered another broken left foot.  It’s the 2nd time he’s broken it in 3 years, and will have his 3rd surgery on it in that span.  It’s a big blow, as the 25-year-old Lopez was averaging career-highs in points, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage.  He also ranked seventh in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating. The Nets are just 2-7 this season with   their big man out of the lineup.  Now this means the depth will be tested, with guys like Reggie Evans, who’d been out of rotation, to get minutes.  Thoughts are Brooklyn could go out and   make a trade for Houston Rockets back-up Omer Asik, but with no first round picks for the  next 6 years, that’s not likely.  So now it’s time for guys like Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche to step up, and Deron Wiliams to play with pride and lead this team to the playoffs without their security blanket down low.  It’s still very possible in the weak Eastern Conference, but their dreams of a Championship are most likely over.

So with all that being said, let’s look at the week that was for the Nets, before the Lopez injury.

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Game 24: vs Philadelphia 

The week started off very well for the Nets, easily handling the Philadelphia 76ers at home 130-94, and without Brook Lopez, who was out then with a sprained ankle.  It was a wire-to-wire win, that was sparked by a 20-7 run to start the game.  It was just a 10 point lead at the half for Brooklyn.

But the story of the game, was the ridiculous 3rd quarter Joe Johnson put up.  29 points is a lot for this team to score int he 3rd quarter, their Achilles heel, so when Johnson scored 29 himself, it was a sight to see.  Brooklyn’s shooting-guard finished with a season high 37, hitting on 10-14 from 3.  He would’ve challenged the NBA record of 12, but there was no need for him to play at all in the 4th quarter.

6 Nets finished in double figures, a season high 35 assists in a game they shot 60% from the field and from 3.  The team hit a franchise record 21 shots from behind the arc, with Shaun Livingston hitting the record breaker, and he’s not known for his shot behind the arc.

  • Joe Johnson easily led all scorers with 37, Mason Plumlee pulled down 8 boards off the bench and Deron Williams with a season high 13 assists in a double-double performance.

W Sixers 94 – Nets 130

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Game 25: vs Washington

They were outplayed by a younger, quicker team. Plain and simple.

3 Nets scored 20+ including a season high 27 from Paul Pierce.  But 7 Wizards finished in double figures, and they out-rebounded Brooklyn 51-31.  Deeper into that number was the 23 second-chance points the Wizards scored to the Nets 3.

They couldn’t stop them, especially from 3 and when they did stop Washington, they weren’t fighting off the glass, and you can’t do that. Not at home and not when you’re many games under .500 in a season that had Championship aspirations. You can’t do it ever.

  • Paul Pierce led all scorers with 27, Joe Johnson had a team high 7 rebounds and Deron Williams with his 2nd 13 assist game.

L Wizards 113 – Nets 107

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Game 26: @ Philadelphia

There was revenge on the minds of the Sixers, and the Nets let them go through with it.  It was close throughout, though Brooklyn looked like they were going to pull away late.   The game featured 31 lead changes and 21 ties. Both teams made a number of big shots, especially in overtime.

The Nets had no answer in the paint, with Philly outscoring them 66-30.  It’s believed Brook Lopez suffered his injury in the 3rd quarter and kept playing, but he wasn’t his usual self in the first half of the game.  Brooklyn had their chances to score in the paint, but missed a lot of open looks.  The Sixers didn’t, and Evan Turner ‘s game winner came in the paint, as time expired in the overtime.

Paul Pierce had another good game, his first double-double of the year, but Brooklyn missed Joe Johnson, who was away from the team for personal reasons, and Kevin Garnett was resting.

  • Alan Anderson had a big game, leading the way with 26 points, Pierce pulled down 10 boards and the point guards were just that, on point. Deron Williams 3rd straight double figure assist total at 14, a new season high, and Shaun Livingston added another 11.

L Nets 120 – Sixers 121

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So it’s time to move on without Brook Lopez, who is officially out for the season.  And it comes before a tough Holiday week of games.  It starts tonight at home against the Pacers.  Then it’s a rematch of the playoffs when the Bulls come to Brooklyn on Christmas Day.  Then it’s a back-to-back on the road against Milwaukee on Friday and they finish it up Saturday night in Indiana.

NBA: The Nets Can’t Find Any Consistency

Coming off their best week of the season at 2-2, the Nets looked to get on track with a home-heavy schedule in December.  Instead, they continued to leave their defense in 2012.  This team is not good on either end of the floor right now, and really need their starting point-guard back.  Deron WIlliams showed in the second half of last season how good this team can be when him and Brook Lopez are on the floor together, day-in and day-out.  And when Williams, Lopez, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were on the floor together early on, is when you saw the best from this team.  Wins against Miami and hard-fought defensive battles with Indiana were proof. It was depth injuries and unfamiliarity than that plagued this team.  Now its injuries on all fronts, and a lack of energy, especially on the defensive end.  Now here’s a look back at this weeks 3 games.

Game 18: vs Denver

It was a chance to prove themselves against a good team, finally start a win streak, and make a push at home.  Instead, it turned into another blowout.  They couldn’t defend, they couldn’t keep up with the young, fast Nuggets, and they couldn’t rebound.  All recipes for disaster.  Not to mention another horrible 3rd quarter, the norm for this team.

The Nets actually got off to a good start, winning the 1st quarter, but the Nuggest defense got hot, as did their everything on offense, scoring 31 in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  It didn’t help that Brook Lopez was not good, on either end, and that never ends well for Brooklyn. Their all-star center allowed Timofey Mozgov to have a crazy night, 17 points and 20 rebounds.

  • Joe Johnson with a team high 22, Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche both pulled down 6 boards, and Shaun Livingston led the way with 4 assists.

L Nuggets 111 – Nets 87

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Game 19: vs New York

The two teams entered action a combined 8-26, but the final score made the Knicks look like a top team, and the Nets the near bottom-dwellers that they are so far.  Another poor start by Brooklyn saw them down as many as 15 in the 1st quarter once again.  They would finish the quarter down 7, and play an even 2nd to keep it a game.  Then the dreaded 3rd quarter hit.  Iman Shumpert, who’s been inconsistent for New York, went off as a part of the Knicks domination of the 3rd quarter, outscoring Brooklyn by himself.

Early on, it looked like Brook Lopez might be able to dominate down low, as he should’ve, with New York missing their star center Tyson Chandler.  But poor shooting early, along with foul trouble, held back Lopez from what could’ve been a monster effort.  Add to that another night of poor 3-point defense, and you can see why the Nets were blown out again, in their own building, against a then 3-win team.

Make it two straight games of allowing over a 110 points for this very bad Brooklyn defense.  Not only was the effort on the court lacking again, the fan support wasn’t there either, as from the introductions, the black and white of Barclays Center, was dominated by the blue and orange.  It was a bad night all around.

  • Brook Lopez did lead the way in scoring, putting up 20 to go with his team high 9 rebounds.  A poor assist night meant Andray Blatche’s 3 were the most by a Net in the blowout.

L Knicks 113 – Nets 83

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Game 20: @ Milwaukee

It wasn’t pretty, but who cares?  The Nets needed a win, and they picked one up on the road to end the week.  Brook Lopez was the reason why, carrying the team with 20 of their 39 1st half points.  Lopez needed an effort like that, after a bad start to the week.

Another win means another won 3rd quarter.  Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson helped Lopez out in that quarter, both finishing in double figures.  The Nets did a good job handling the rock, turning it over just 8 times.  Another bad night shooting the 3, but the ones they did hit came in big spots to help build a 2nd half lead.  The defense showed up for once, and my favorite part, is they took advantage of the mismatch down low.  See Lopez’s night.  He knew he was bigger and stronger, and the Nets got him the ball for 13 field-goal attempts.  They have to do a better job of this, as Lopez is bigger than most centers in the league.  And he’s starting to play like that.

  • Brook Lopez with a season high 32 points, Andray Blatche and Kevin Garnett again tied for a team high 8 rebounds and Joe Johnson led with 5 dimes.

W Nets 90 – Bucks 82

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So they enter week 2 of December at 6-14. A big test awaits on Tuesday at home, as the Atlantic leading Celtics come to Brooklyn.  Boston is only 9-12, but lead the weak division and of course have half the 2012-2013 Nets on their roster after the Pierce/Garnett deal.  Pierce of course will miss the first game against his old team with his fractured finger, but Garnett is sure to be fired up for it.  Then the Clippers come in on Thursday.  Brooklyn then hits the road for a game in Detroit to finish up the week on Friday.  Revenge should be on the Nets minds for those 2 matchups, as they lost to both already this year.

NBA: Nets Find A Way to Finally Go 2-2

It wasn’t easy, but the Nets finally had an okay week.  They went 2-2 for the first time all season, bringing their season record to 5-12.  They got their all-star center back, and saw growth from two 2nd year players.  The best part though could be that the 2 wins came on the road.

Game 14: @ Toronto

They don’t make it easy on themselves, but they picked up a much-needed win to snap their 5-game skid.  Brook Lopez missed his 7th straight, Deron Williams was also out for his 6th out of the last 7.  They came out with energy, something that doesn’t always happen, and they kept it.  Another thing that doesn’t always happen.  They found a way, thanks in part to Joe Johnson, to win the 3rd quarter.  They’re now 4-0 when they win the dreaded 3rd.

It was a close game throughout, though Brooklyn held a 13 point lead late, giving the impression they;d pick up an easy win.  Wrong. Leading 101-86 with 3:13 left Steve Novak was fouled on a 3-point attempt, sparking a 14-1 Raptors run to end the game.  Toronto ran out of time, and Brooklyn snuck out of Air Canada Centre with the 2-point win.

4 starters finished in double figures for the 6th time this season.  They got a lot of big minutes from guys like Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic off the bench as they shortened their rotation just a bit.

  • For the 3rd game out of the last 4, Andray Blatche led the team with 24-points, 6 boards from Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston, who added 7 assists.

W Nets 102 – Raptors 100

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Game 15: vs Los Angeles

The Lakers shot Brooklyn out of their house in the 1st quarter, but then the Nets responded in the 2nd to make a once 25 point lead manageable at the half.  A key reason for Los Angeles taking a quick 27-point lead was the shooting of back up point guard Jordan Farmar.  The former New Jersey Net went 5-7 from 3 in his first game against his old team since 2010.  But the law of averages came into play in the 2nd half, because the Lakers hot shooting came to a halt, and the Nets took advantage, tying up the Lakers late in the 4th.  But that’s when it all changed.

For the 2nd straight day, the offense went ice-cold in the final 3 minutes of the game, and t he sloppy play took over.  Tied 92-92 with under 2 to play, after a number of missed bunnies down low by Brooklyn, Paul pierce decided to run the offense through himself, made a lazy pass that was taken back by Wesley Johnson for the go-ahead score.  To make matters worse, Jason Kidd showed he was willing to do anything to win, and by anything, I mean telling Tyshawn Taylor to “hit me.”  Listening to his head coach, Taylor knocked into him, causing Kidd to spill his drink, and essentially get an extra time out, down 2, with a Laker at the line looking to make it a 3 point lead with 8.3 seconds left to play.  Add to that the fact that no one on the Brooklyn Bench seemed to notice two LA players in their final huddle, and it all turned into a 5-point loss.

Mirza Teletovic had by far his best game of his NBA career, a much welcome sight for fans and management alike.  The 2nd year pro went 4-7 from the 3-point line, added 5-5 from the charity stripe as well as 5 rebounds.  His spark off the bench was key in the huge comeback the Nets put together.  Mason Plumlee continues to impress, blocking four shots in just under 21 minutes of action.

  • Joe Johnson led 5 double-figure scorers with 18, Kevin Garnett led the way with 9 boards and Paul Pierce dished out a team high 5 assists.

L Lakers 99 – Nets 94

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Game 16: @ Houston

Brook Lopez made his return, as Kevin Garnett sat in a 114-95 drubbing by the Houston Rockets.  Lopez looked like he didn’t miss a beat after missing 8 games, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes of action.  Garnett was just given the front half of a back-to-back off, no injury there.  But getting their big man back didn’t help.  This team’s inability to start the 2nd half well has now found its way to the 1st quarter.  The defense out of the locker room is starting to really hurt, and it’s not just out of half anymore.  You can’t be down double digits after 12 minutes every game and expect to go on a run.

The Rockets high-scoring ability, coupled with Brooklyn’s poor defense to start the season, this one got ugly early.  They are having real trouble defending the three-point line of late, proved true by a 6-6 performance behind the arc from Houston’s Chandler Parsons.  The Rockets as a team shot near 60% as a team from 3, something that can’t happen, especially when you yourselves hit just 27% of your three-point attempts.  This game really was all about the difference in the two teams ability to shoot the basketball.  The Nets did a good job limiting turnovers, and free-throw attempts, as well as rebounding the basketball, but it didn’t matter.

  • Aside from the return of a healthy Brook Lopez, Mirza Teletovic’s 1st career double-double of 18 point and 13 rebounds to go with 2nd year point guard Tyshawn Taylor’s 1st.  Taylor finished with 16 points and a team high 12 assists.

L Nets 95 – Rockets 114

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Game 17: @ Memphis

For the first time this week, the Nets got off to a pretty good start.  And guess what, in picking up their 5th victory, they also got their first win when losing the 3rd quarter.  I’d call that progress.  Brook Lopez made his 2nd straight start back from injury, and after a quiet first half, he helped put the game away in the 4th.  The Nets now have more wins on the road than they do at home, though they’ve played more games on the road than home early on.  That will change in December.

It was a rare bad night for bench player Alan Anderson, who started in place of the injured Paul Pierce, who sat with a right hand.  Anderson has provided good defense and an ability to hit the 3 early on off the bench, but went 0-6 as a starter.  The scoring mainly came from 3 guys, with Blatche, Lopez and Johnson combining 67 of Brooklyn’s 97 points.  But the offense did well despite that, with nearly everyone registering an assist and a rebound, and they took a lot of free throw attempts.  The Grizzlies are a good defensive team, and the Nets found different ways to score.  Not to mention that Blatche went 3-3 from behind the arc, a career high.  That’s not the game you want him playing, but they went down, so the Nets will take it.  The Grizzlies were led by Quincy Pondexter’s career-high 22 off the bench.

  • Joe Johnson continues to shine in 2013, leading the team in points with 26, as well as 6 assists while Brook Lopez pulled down 9 boards.

W Nets 97 – Grizzlies 89

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 So they’re still not where they want to be, but this week was a step in the right direction.  Now they have a chance to make up some ground with a majority of their games in this month at home in Brooklyn.  December play starts  Tuesday against Denver.  Then their first of four with the Knicks on Thursday, a match-up that isn’t as anticipated as it would be with both teams sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic.  But with these two teams, throw away the records.   The week wraps Saturday on the road against Milwaukee.