Monday Morning Update—May 15, 2017

The Yankees’ rebuild pauses to honor the past, Golden State rallies, and the Capitals go home empty-handed once again.

1. The Yankees are back

It’s been a good, no, great, start to the season for Yankee fans. Aaron Judge is currently setting the world on

Aaron Judge is currently setting the world on fire and has turned practically every single one of his at-bats into appointment viewing. Even as last year’s hero Gary Sanchez has been nursing an injury, the Yankees’ youth revolution has been worthy of the bright lights of broadway during the season’s first month and a half or so. And, perhaps even more incredibly, the starting pitching that in April seemed to be held together with chewing gum and rubber bands has been excellent.

As a result, the Yankees are atop the AL East Standings, and headlines everywhere from Newsday to the worldwide leader are calling the Yankees a model rebuild. And if these results hold, they’re absolutely right.

But as much as I would love to see the Yankees make a run at the playoffs, and despite the fact that they’ve shown the ability to at least have hot streaks that can match the best in baseball, I’m still holding my breath. We’ve started to see the team’s weaknesses rear their heads, as the starting pitching

We’ve started to see the team’s weaknesses rear their heads, as the starting pitching faltered over the past week or two, and even the bullpen, generally agreed to be the team’s strength starting the season, is now down closer Aroldis Chapman.

The Yankees have logged enough wins that they will be a factor in the playoff discussion for the next couple of months and showed enough promise to think they may be closer to the promised land than we ever had thought. But baseball is a long season, and a good April and May does not a champion make.

2. A great day to play 2

This one deserved to lead this week’s Update, but I couldn’t help but put it at the #2 spot. For a player that hit in the second order and ensured that no other Yankee would wear the number two, it seemed only fitting.

There’s been so much said about Derek Jeter over the past week or so, from ESPN features to Budweiser commercials to the inscription on his new plaque in Monument Park. So I’ll try to keep it somewhat brief here.

Living in Boston, I’ve been subject to just about every hot take on my patron saint this week, and while it certainly gets old after a while, it serves to show just how influential Jeter was. And while many have cast him as overrated no matter what, remember that he sits in the top six of baseball’s all-time hit leaders. He may never have been the best player in the majors, or even the best player on the Yankees, thanks to his career coinciding with the team’s glory days.

But he was the standard. David Wells, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and other star pitchers came and went, but Jeter was there. Chuck Knoblock turned to Alfonso Soriano to Robinson Cano at second base, but Jeter was the constant presence on the other side of the bag.

And in a sport that’s all about consistency, about maintaining a high standard of play through more than 200 spring training, regular season and postseason games in order to reach the top, Jeter was always there. Seemingly always on base or at the plate in the big moments, or somewhere eon the field to make a great play. Call it luck, call it whatever you want, but it takes a special kind of player to do what he did over the course of so many games.

And as a fan, I’ll take Jeter’s brand of “luck” any day of the week.

3. Golden State makes a mockery of it

The past few days and weeks have not been great for the stereotypes that plague the NBA.

You think superteams mean less than a handful of teams actually have a chance at an NBA title? The way Golden State and Cleveland have walked through the first two rounds without so much as a hiccup has given you plenty of evidence that’s true. Think that the regular season has been rendered meaningless, as players like LeBron James treat it as an extended training camp before turning it up in the playoffs? Once again, you’re right on the money.And if your complaint is that the only parts of any individual NBA game that matters are the final quarters and minutes, then last night’s display by Golden State may be the best case of that ever.

Really, the Mother’s Day Massacre was every NBA complaint rolled into one. Golden State was down big, way past double digits, but came steaming back late thanks to its top-heavy roster of scorings stars. The Spurs, supposedly the answer to Golden State’s superteam, couldn’t even get a win after being spotted a sleepy Warriors team and one or two dozen points in the first half. I’m not surprised Durant was caught laughing, because the game was a joke.

Make no mistake, Golden State is perhaps the best NBA team ever assembled. And I’m beyond excited to watch the next edition of Cavs-Warriors in the finals. But when most fans spending three-quarters of the playoffs just hoping Curry, Durant, and LeBron stay healthy, the NBA may have a problem on its hands.

4. Finally, a funeral

The thing about making big statements and guarantees means you can only make them once—or so I thought.

Boston decided to try and change the mojo of their series with the Washington Wizards when the Celtics showed up to the Wizards’ home of the Verizon Center dressed for a funeral. It didn’t work, as the Wizards went up big and held on for a win late on the back of a John Wall make and am Isaiah Thomas miss. So, it was more of the same as the home team held serve, no matter what boasting or antics preceded the game.

Both Boston and Washington have pulled the funeral gimmick so far, and while it raises the drama, it also somehow seems to serve as an anti-climax. There will be a funeral one way or the other on Monday night, and it should (hopefully) be an entertaining struggle for survival, but at this point, even Boston cashing in that promise a game late would feel like a hollow victory.

And if there is any victory more hollow than one rewarded with the privilege of being made into the lunchmeat by LeBron and the Gang, I can’t come up with one.

5. The Capitals’ wings get clipped again

Same song. Different chorus.

It’s the middle of May, so as the weather warms and the flowers bloom, the Capitals’ season is done once more. And while this should be nothing more than another fact of life at this point, this loss feels different. With so many contracts expiring and the core of the team moving further and further away from their physical primes, it’s no secret that change has arrived for the Capitals.

Does that mean Ovechkin will be playing elsewhere come September, the Caps finally deciding to burn it to the ground? I’m doubting it. The Caps’ enigmatic Russian leader (is there any other kind) may be the owner of skills that are set to dimish with age, but players like Evgeny Kuznetzov and Niklas Backstrom mean that the Russian Revolution can continue in D.C.

And while everyone around the NHL is saying that the sun has set on the Capitals, that the team has or soon will become too old to make it, I’m not so sure. Just look at the New York Rangers, who face similar criticisms. They were just two wins away from the NHL’s final four this year, and it’s not hard to envision a scenario where that team could have found an unlikely path into the Stanley Cup this year.

The Capitals next year will be better than the Rangers this year if they hold court. Which means even if it is starting to slide shut, the window is still open. And in the NHL, you don’t close that window if someone else doesn’t make you.

6. A future burning bright

The Capitals’ perfect foil may just be the Edmonton Oilers. While both teams exited the NHL Playoffs in six games, the Oilers are everything the Capitals aren’t—young, with a superstar that’s already great and only getting better, and full of promise.

While any loss in the NHL Playoffs is a tough one to swallow, there was a palpable sense of optimism in and around the Oilers locker room even after the loss to the Ducks in Game Seven. And there’s reason for that optimism, as the team looks ready to perhaps supplant the Chicago Blackhawks has the top dog, at least on paper in the West. So it’s tough to blame Connor McDavid and the rest of his squad for thinking the latest loss was just a stumble on the way to the promised land.

But that’s what makes me a bit nervous. While I too think we’ll be seeing plenty of the Oilers for years to come, there are no guarantees in the NHL. My own Islanders went from out of the playoffs, to a first round exit, to a win in the first round, only to fall out of the playoffs entirely this year. Ditto for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who looked prime for a decade of dominance following a Cup Final appearance, only to suffer from injuries and bad luck to end up on the outside looking in.

They say you have to lose before you win in the NHL, and that’s largely true. But if you assume a win will follow a loss, you may be disappoitned—you still have to earn it, Oilers.

7.  Silfverberg becomes a star

The NHL playoffs can make you or break you in this league. Turn in a bad playoff performance and you end up like Jordan Eberle, on the trading block, potentially leaving a team seemingly bound for stardom.

But elevate your game, and you can make your bones for years to come. Just ask Jakob Silfverberg and the Anaheim Ducks. A few months ago, the winger’s future was uncertain—after coming to the organization via the Boby Ryan trade, there were rumors he could leave it via the expansion draft. SportsNet even predicted he’d be drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights.

But I don’t think that will be happening anymore. Silvferberg’s breakout performance in these playoffs have all but assured that the Ducks will protect the winger, or risk losing what could be a crucial piece to the team’s next incarnation, as vets that have been with Anaheim for a long time (more on them in a moment) age out of the talent pool.

Because if he is left available, he won’t be in Anaheim for long. Not after what he’s done these past few weeks.

8. A battle brewing

While it’s been fun to watch a new generation of Ducks like Silvferberg, goaltender John Gibson and the team’s bumper crop of young defenseman come of age, these playoffs also remind fans just why they may have disliked Anaheim all these years.

The team’s star center and provocateur extraordinaire, Ryan Kesler, has been back at it again this year. Last round, he may or may not have grabbed Cam Talbot’s pad turning the miraculous three-goal comeback and Ryan Johansen had some choice words for the veteran, and his loved ones for that matter, after the Game Two loss. Considering we have at least three more contests still to come, the fireworks should only increase later this week.

But as much as we all may Hate Kesler and those like him, they really are indispensible to the game of hockey. Having that player that you love to hate, who’s so frustrating but also so good, makes a series more fun, whether he’s on your team or an object of your scorn.

This series is certainly all the better for it.

9. The Senators take a stab at Pittsburgh’s evil empire

Winning a game on the road early is crucial for an underdog. So is capturing an OT win, as games that close need to go to the side in need of some good bounces and better luck if they hope to win. So if you can cross both off your list, like the Ottawa Senators did this weekend, that’s not a bad start.

The team that everyone (including yours truly) thought would lose in every round, but haven’t yet, defied expectations by winning Game One against the vaulted Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s plenty of hockey left to play, and Pittsburgh is only going to come harder in Game Two and throughout the series, but Ottawa is in the driver’s seat for now

If nothing else, the much-maligned Senators aren’t going down without a fight—Game One proved much is for sure. And if there was ever a time the Penguvulnerablebe vunderable, this might be the year. Crosby and many of the team’s other stars are depleted from a long hard cup run and time in the World Cup of Hockey this fall, and Kris Letang is on the bench.

I’m not picking the Senators yet, but it is starting to feel like they may just be this year’s team of destiny.

Have a good week everyone! To keep up with the latest on, Like our new Facebook page. For more from Brendan, follow him on Twitter @MurraySportTalk


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