Matthews: Thank You For Rasmus Dahlin

posted by Bob Matthews - 

THANK YOU TIM MURRAY FOR RASMUS DAHLIN

The Buffalo Sabres will be in the spotlight Friday night at the NHL Draft in Dallas. They’re expected to select Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall. He is rated by far the best prospect in this draft.

Carolina is expected to select right wing Andrei Svechnikov No. 2 overall. There supposedly is a big talent drop after the top two.

Dahlin figures to join Jack Eichel in the small fraternity of recent Sabres high draft picks never to appear in a game with the Rochester Americans.

Buffalo obviously needs more scoring, but Dahlin by all accounts is too good to pass up. He’ll be only the third defenseman selected No. 1 overall in the last 20-plus years: Erik Johnson in 2006 by St. Louis and Aaron Ekblad by Florida in 2014.

When Dahlin is picked and introduced Friday night on NBCSN, Sabres fans should pause and give brief thanks to Tim Murray. If not for his unfortunate drafts and trades in his three-plus years as general manager, Buffalo would not have been in position to select Dahlin.

(The highlight of Murray’s tenure was drafting Jack Eichel No. 2 overall in 2015. But even WE would’ve done that).

THREE EXCELLENT TEAMS...ALL IN ONE LEAGUE, TWO IN ONE DIVISION

Three Major League Baseball teams with exactly 50 wins on the first day of summer. That’s unusual.

It is even more unusual to have them all in one league -- and two in the same division:

The New York Yankees (50-22 record in the American League East), Houston Astros (50-22 in the AL West) and Boston (50-26 in the AL East).

They’re clearly the three best teams in baseball entering Friday. In my opinion, the Washington Nationals, when healthy and with the addition of reliever Kelvin Herrera, are the only team in the National League that can approach the AL’s Big Three in talent.

The Cleveland Indians could be baseball’s luckiest team. They figure to win the relatively weak AL Central by default and thus clinch one of the four spots in AL Division Series play. It looks like the Yankees or Red Sox – whichever finishes second in the AL East with a better record than Cleveland -- would have to play in the wild-card elimination game. 

Obviously, winning the AL East is a big deal for the Yankees or Red Sox. That’s why New York figures to trade for a starting pitcher and Boston is rumored to be interested in Baltimore soon-to-be free agent Manny Machado to play third base (current Red Sox Rafael Devers is the prime trade bait).

The following numbers reveal how the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox dominated MLB in the spring (rank in MLB in parentheses):

Records – Yankees 50-22, .694 (1)...Astros 50-26, .658 (t2)...Red Sox 50-26 (t2)

Home records – Yankees 29-11 (1)...Red Sox 23-11 (2)...Astros 21-15 (11)

Road records – Astros 29-11 (1)...Yankees 21-11 (2)...Red Sox 27-15 (3)

Run differential – Astros +161 (1)...Red Sox +108 (2)...Yankees +106 (3)

Runs – Astros (394)...Yankees 383 (2)...Red Sox 381 (3)

Home runs – Yankees 122 (1)...Red Sox 107 (t2)...Astros 96 (6)

Total bases – Red Sox 1191 (1)...Yankees 1148 (2)...Astros 1145 (3)

Extra-base hits – Red Sox 274 (1)...Yankees 270 (2)...Astros 249 (4)

Batting average – Astros .267 (1)...Red Sox .261 (2)...Yankees .253 (8)

On-base percentage – Astros .337 (2)...Yankees .331 (4)...Red Sox .328 (5)

Slugging percentage – Yankees .466 (1)...Red Sox .450 (2)...Astros .440 (3)

OPS – Yankees .797 (1)...Red Sox .778 (2)...Astros .777 (3)

Stolen bases – Red Sox 55 (t3)...Astros 37 (14)...Yankees 33 (t17)

Sacrifice bunts – Astros 7 (23)...Yankees 5 (24)...Red Sox 2 (t28)

Earned-run average – Astros 2.86 (1)...Yankees 3.41 (3)...Red Sox 3.42 (3)

Batting average against – Astros .208 (1)...Yankees .217 (2)...Red Sox .226 (6)

Opponents struck out – Astros 788 (1)...Yankees 737 (2)...Red Sox 736 (3)

Fewest walks allowed – Astros 197 (3)...Yankees 223 (10)...Red Sox 236 (14)

Fewest errors – Astros 26 (t1)...Red Sox 39 (t12)...Yankees 43 (t18).

Baseball fans can thank the schedule-maker for this – the Yankees and Red Sox will square off at Yankee Stadium September 18-19-20 and end the regular season at Fenway Park September 28-29-30.

WHY MIKE TROUT IS THE BASEBALL’S BEST PLAYER

Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado will become unrestricted free agents after this season.

We all know that they’ll be signing long-term contracts – probably with new teams – for mind-boggling amounts of money.

Imagine how much Mike Trout would be worth on this off-season’s free-agent market.

Trout, who won’t become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2020 season, is in the fourth season of a six-year, $142.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Why will Trout – who played in his 1,000th Major League Baseball game Thursday night – be worth more than Harper or Machado? Because he’s THE best all-around player in the sport.

He can hit. He has power. He can field. He can run. He knows when to run. He’s seldom thrown out trying to steal. He hardly ever makes a mistake on the field. He’s the total package. As close to a perfect baseball player as you’ll find.

And I believe he is underrated. Playing on the West Coast probably is a factor. He isn’t loud or controversial. He’s never boasting or saying something stupid. He isn’t turning off opponents with obnoxious bat flips or home run trots.

I’m a big fan of Boston’s Mookie Betts, but no way should he have more votes than Trout among American League outfielders in the latest All-Star Game fan balloting.

Trout’s 2018 performance line: .332 batting average (86-for-259); 16 doubles; 3 triples; 23 HRs; 48 RBI; .471 on-base percentage; .683 slugging percentage; MLB-best 1.155 OPS.

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a way to measure a player’s value to his team compared to a Triple-A player or available free agent who would replace him. Trout’s 6.7 WAR is tops in MLB. Jose Ramirez is second at 4.9 and Betts is third at 4.4.

This is Trout’s seventh full MLB season. In his previous six seasons, he was 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st and 4th in American League Most Valuable Player balloting. He led MLB in WAR in 2016 (10.6), 2014 (7.9), 2013 (9.2) and 2012 (10.7).  He was second to Bryce Harper in 2015 (9.9 to 9.4) and – in an “off year” – 8th (6.7) behind leader Jose Altuve (8.3) in 2017.

Trout will turn 27 in August. Can he get better? Probably.

The Angels would be wise to give him a contract extension – immediately – and I’m sure they’re trying.

For now, we can only speculate on what offers he’d receive as an unrestricted free agent for the 2021 season and beyond. Will he be the first $50 million-a-year baseball player?

SHOULD SABRES GM BOTTERILL CLEAN HOUSE?

Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill reportedly has been getting calls about possible trades involving Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen.

Would that be wise? There are plenty of Sabres that should be moved but I wouldn’t advocate subtracting three of the better players on the roster.

Sure, O’Reilly’s admission that it was tough to play in such a losing atmosphere should cost him the captain’s “C”, but he’s only 27 years old, a solid two-way center, a top-shelf faceoff man (won an NHL-record 1,269 draws last season) and a guaranteed 20-goal scorer for a team short on firepower.

Reinhart has been a disappointing No. 2 overall draft pick but he was averaging a point per game in the final months of last season. It would be tough to watch him turn into a star for another team.

Rasmus Dahlin will instantly become Buffalo’s best defensemen  but good NHL teams need at least six solid blueliners and Ristolainen would no worse than second-best on the Sabres.

MLB TEAMS SHOULD PLAY MORE GAMES IN MINOR-LEAGUE CITIES

Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced that the Detroit Tigers will play the Kansas City Royals in a regular-season game in Omaha next year as the College Baseball World Series begins.

In August 2017, Pittsburgh and St. Louis played a regular-season game in Williamsport, Pa., as a salute to the Little League World Series.

In July 2016, Atlanta and Miami played a regular-season game at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Major-league teams of past eras frequently played exhibition games in minor-league cities, usually against affiliates. It was a good way to impress fans in the hinterlands.

The Baltimore Orioles regularly played the Red Wings in Rochester.

As the Major League Baseball Players Association grew stronger, the visits to minor-league cities dwindled and eventually disappeared. That was unfortunate.

Would it be asking too much for a few regular-season games in minor-league ballparks every season? Playing one such game every 15 years shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. It would be great public relations for MLB.

For example, a regular-season MLB game in Rochester would fill Frontier Field. That would be more fans than attend some games in several major-league ballparks.

TOM BRADY IS MY PICK FOR ESPY BEST MALE ATHLETE

The nominees for the 2018 ESPY Awards (July 18 from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, with host Danica Patrick) were announced Wednesday.

The four nominees for Best Male Athlete are Jose Altuve, Alex Ovechkin, James Harden and Tom Brady.

Altuve, Ovechkin and Harden are first-time nominees. Brady is a three-time nominee. He’s overdue.

Since the ESPYs began in 1993, only two NFL quarterbacks were chosen Best Male Athlete: Steve Young in 1995 and Drew Brees in 2010.

TWO EX-WINGS – CARDOZA AND BUSS – MET SIMILAR FATES

The Minnesota Twins outright released Rochester Red Wings outfielder Buss this week. The 2017 Pacific Coast League batting champion never got going for Rochester:

2017 with El Paso (Pacific Coast League) – 114 games; .348 batting average (123-for-353); 19 doubles; 8 triples; 11 HRs; 55 RBI

2018 with Rochester (International League) – 47 games; .239 (38-for-159); 8 doubles; 1 triple; 2 HRs; 11 RBI.

First baseman Don Cardoza was the Pacific Coast League batting champion with Albuquerque in 1977 but his average dropped exactly 100 points as a Red Wing in 1978:

1977 with Albuquerque (Pacific Coast League) -- 104 games; .355 batting average (139-for-391); 24 doubles; 2 triples; 4 HRs; 40 RBI

1978 with Rochester (International League) – 128 games; .255 batting average (110-for-431); 16 doubles; 4 triples; 11 HRs; 42 RBI.

Cardoza and Buss both were drafted by the Los Angeles and both were left-handed hitters. Cardoza retired from pro ball after his disappointing season with the Red Wings. He was 24. Hopefully, the 31-year-old Buss will find a new team and hit like he can.

SHORT SHOTS

Buffalo’s Sean McDermott improved from 27th last year to 18th this year in The Sporting News pre-season rankings of the 32 NHL head coaches. Considering the job McDermott did last season – taking a team with probably 20th-or-lower overall talent to the playoffs – I believe he should’ve improved by more than nine spots in those rankings.

Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last week at odds of 20-to-1, is 20-to-1 in early odds to win The Open Championship July 19-22 in Scotland, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Dustin Johnson is the 9-to-1 favorite, followed by Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth each at 14-to-1; Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose each at 16-to-1; Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm each at 20-to-1. Tiger Woods is 25-to-1.

Golf lost two greats this week: Hubert Green, winner of 19 PGA Tour titles, including the 1977 U.S. Open (after receiving a death threat during the final round – he played on) and the 1985 PGA Championship., died Tuesday of throat cancer. He was 71...Australia’s Peter Thomson, tied with Tom Watson for five British Open titles (including 1954-55-56), and winner of nine events on the 1965 PGA senior tour, died Wednesday at age 88.

Free-agent wide receiver Eric Decker says he’d be a good fit in New England.  He’s 31 and has lost a step, but he’d be a better fit in Buffalo. No team in the NFL more needs a decent veteran receiver. He had 54 catches for 563 yards with Tennessee last season.

Leon White, pro wrestling’s Big Van Vader. Died this week of pneumonia/heart failure at age 63. He was an All-American football center at the University of Colorado and selected in the third round of the 1978 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. A knee injury ended his brief NFL career. He had wrestled as recently as April 2017.

The NY-P League Batavia Muckdogs, no longer affiliated with the Rochester Red Wings, drew crowds of 925, 563 and 692 this week for their first three home games of the season.

Ray “Buddy” Barker, a left-handed hitting first baseman who had a solid 1961 season for the Red Wings (.248, 15 HRs, 63 RBI in 124 games) in the first year of the Baltimore Orioles Era, died May 29 in Martinsburg, W.Va. He was 82. He had brief stints in the majors with the Orioles, Indians and Yankees.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, June 22

Omri Casspi (30)...Danny Green (31)...Dustin Johnson (34)...Ian Kinsler (36)...Jason Motte (36)...Champ Bailey (40)...Esteban Yan (43)...Kurt Warner (47)...Darrell Armstrong (50)...Clyde Drexler (56)...John Tice (58)...Dean Turner (60).  Erin Brockovich (58), Carson Daly (45), Cyndi Lauper (65), Meryl Streep (69), Elizabeth Warren (69) and Lindsay Wagner (69) are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, June 23

LaDainian Tomlinson (39)...Matt Light (40)...Brandon Stokley (42)...Kevin Dyson (43)...Zinedine Zidane (46)...Felix Potvin (47)...Colin Montgomery (55)...LaSalle Thompson (57)...Booker Moore (59)...Larry Playfair (60)...Dave Butz (68).

Sunday, June 24

Mo’ne Davis (17)...Lionel Messi (31)...Phil Hughes (32)...Taj Gibson (33)...J.J. Redick (34)...Doug Bernier (38)...Antoine Winfield (41)...Mitch Berger (46)...Uwe Krupp (53)...Shane Churla (53)...Gary Suter (54)...Bernie Nichols (57)...Juli Inkster (58).

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS

June 22

81 years ago (1937), Joe Louis KOd James J. Braddock for the heavyweight title...80 years ago (1938), Joe Louis ruined Adolf Hitler’s day with a KO of Germany’s Max Schmeling at 2:04 of the first round at Yankee Stadium...35 years ago (1983), the NFL approved a five-minute sudden-death OT period...32 years ago (1986), Judy Dickinson won the LPGA Rochester International...24 years ago (1994), the Houston Rockets beat the New York Knicks 4 games to 3 for the 48th NBA Championship.

June 23

96 years ago (1922), Rochester’s Walter Hagen won the 57th British Open...55 years ago (1963), Jimmy Piersall hit his 100th home run and circled the bases running backwards...37 years ago (1981), the longest game in pro baseball history finally ended in the 33th inning as the host Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Rochester Red Wings 3-2. The game began April 18 and was suspended after 32 innings...30 years ago (1988), Lou Piniella replaced Billy Martin as manager of the New York Yankees. It was the fifth time Martin was fired by George Steinbrenner...23 years ago (1995), Dottie Pepper won the LPGA Rochester International.

June 24

94 years ago (1924), Rochester’s Walter Hagen won the 59th British Open...71 years ago (1947), Jackie Robinson stole home for the first of 19 times in his career...18 years ago (1990), Patty Sheehan won the LPGA Rochester International...17 years ago (1991), the NFL adopted instant replay.

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