Cubs

Was Red Sox manager affected by pain meds?

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Was Red Sox manager affected by pain meds?

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- As the Boston Red Sox disintegrated in what would become the worst September collapse in baseball history, some at Fenway Park grew concerned that the pain medication Terry Francona was taking after a half-dozen procedures on his knee was affecting his ability to manage, according to a report in the Boston Globe. In a 2,500-word, front-page article headlined, "Inside the Collapse," the newspaper spread the blame on all sides: apathetic players eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games; a general manager who squandered a 161 million budget on underperformers; ownership that thought players could be bought off with 300 headphones and a party on John Henry's 164-foot yacht, "Iroquois." But the most salacious revelations involved Francona, who left the team after the season when his contract options were not picked up. Since then, reports have surfaced about the dysfunction in a Red Sox clubhouse that produced a 7-20 record in September to turn what had been a once comfortable lead in the playoff race into an early offseason. According to the Globe, team sources "expressed concern that Francona's performance may have been affected by the use of pain medication." The sources were not identified, the article said, saying those interviewed feared for their jobs or their relationships inside the organization. The article also said Francona was worried about his son and son-in-law, who are Marine officers serving in Iraq. At the same time, Francona was living in a hotel, separated from his wife of more than 30 years. Responding to the allegations that he was "distracted," Francona noted that he was dealing with the same problems during the four-month period when the team was going 80-41. Francona's ill health was no secret -- he was taken to the hospital with chest pains from Yankee Stadium in 2005 -- and he said he was taking the medication after multiple knee operations and at least five procedures to drain blood from his knee. "It makes me angry that people say these things because I've busted my (butt) to be the best manager I can be," Francona told the paper. "I wasn't terribly successful this year, but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did." Francona and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who declined to assign blame for the collapse, were the only individuals who were willing to discuss the team's clubhouse culture on the record. (Designated hitter David Ortiz also commented, but said, "I don't feel like talking about it anymore.") Francona told the paper that he confirmed with team Dr. Larry Ronan that he did not have a problem with drug abuse. "I went and saw the proper people and it was not an issue," Francona said. "It never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that." If Francona was distracted, he was not alone. A hastily scheduled day-night doubleheader to avoid Hurricane Irene angered players, who complained that management cared more about the money from ticket sales than winning. Sensing the "lingering resentment," the article said, ownership threw a players-only party on Henry's yacht and gave each player a pair of expensive headphones. Pitchers Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Wakefield also appeared -- in their uniforms, in front of the Green Monster -- in a music video for a country song, "Hell yeah, I like beer." Henry did not know about the appearance, he has said, and it is more troublesome when coupled with reports that Beckett, Lackey and Jon Lester were among those who would eat fried chicken, drink beer and play video games in the clubhouse during games, instead of being in the dugout with their teammates. "The guys that weren't down on the bench, I wanted them down on the bench," Francona said recently. "I wanted them to support their teammates."

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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