Bruins

Is this man the best pitcher in baseball?

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Is this man the best pitcher in baseball?

From Comcast SportsNet Tuesday, August 23, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays were expecting a tough game against Justin Verlander and that's exactly how it played out. Verlander became the first 19-game winner in the majors, Alex Avila hit his 15th homer and the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers beat the Rays 5-2 on Monday night. "He's just not out there throwing, trying to throw 100 mph," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He pitches. He has a definite idea of what he's doing. He's blessed with a very good arm, but he's also a pitcher." Verlander (19-5) won his seventh consecutive start, giving up one run and three hits in seven innings. The 19 wins match his career high, set in 2009. "Do I know where I'm at?" Verlander said. "Of course I do, but I've said time and time again, those things, totals, season stats, are meant to be looked at at the end of the season." The Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the second when Avila hit a two-run shot off Jeff Niemann (8-5). The All-Star catcher is 25 for 59 (.424) with five homers and 14 RBIs this month. Niemann, who was 7-0 in his 10 previous start, allowed four runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings. Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton left with a right shoulder strain. He got injured right before running into the wall on Delmon Young's eighth-inning double. "I think I just kind of overextended the right arm," Upton said. "It mostly went numb and it started to hurt a little bit." Upton's injury is not thought to be serious, but he is expected to sit out Tuesday's game. Jhonny Peralta made it 4-1 in the eighth on a two-out, two-run single off reliever Juan Cruz. The hit came after Jake McGee, who replaced Niemann with the bases loaded and one out, struck out Avila. "We thought runs were going to be stingy and they were," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Tonight, Justin got the better of him (Niemann). He's a real good pitcher on a real good roll right now." Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, who gave up a solo homer in the ninth to Evan Longoria, both pitched one inning to complete a six-hitter. Leyland is not planning to use either Benoit or Valverde on Tuesday. Don Kelly extended the Tigers' lead to 5-1 on a ninth-inning homer. Matt Joyce, batting leadoff for just the second time this season, homered in the first against Verlander to put the Rays ahead. Joyce entered 5 for 9, including a homer, against the right-hander. Verlander got a no-decision in his other start against the Rays this season, allowing six runs and nine hits over six innings of Detroit's 7-6 win on May 24. This time he struck out eight and walked three, improving to 6-1 overall against the Rays. "There's a reason he was 18-5 coming into the game," Upton said. Tampa Bay designated hitter Johnny Damon had a one-out double in the sixth, tying Rickey Henderson for 46th place all-time with 510. Damon was stranded at second when Longoria hit a grounder and Ben Zobrist struck out. Niemann worked out of a two-on -- both on walks -- and one-out jam during the seventh by getting a foul pop from Kelly and striking out Ramon Santiago. "It was a well-played game," Maddon said. "They just beat us tonight." Avila was briefly shaken up after being hit by Upton's foul ball in the second, but remained in the game. NOTES: Longoria has 60 RBIs in his last 62 games. ... Detroit DH Victor Martinez was a late scratch because of lower back spasms. The catcher has been limited recently to DH duty due to a sore knee. ... Joyce went 1 for 2 with a walk against Verlander. ... Leyland said INF Brandon Inge, who had his contract purchased from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday, will be the emergency catcher. ... Tampa Bay LHP David Price (11-10) enters his start Tuesday 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in five games, including three starts, against the Tigers. ... Detroit RHP Brad Penny (8-9) will make his 25th start of the season Tuesday.

Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.

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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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