It is always a treat on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon to sit back, relax, and watch some of your favourite sports, but this weekend and what’s to follow in June surely takes the cake. It is one of those rare moments when the planets, or in this case the sports, align and culminate in providing 48 hours of whatever kind of ball, basket, save, kick, shot or putt you’re after. So, what’s in store?
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles
The Jays have been an incredible surprise for fans. After more than 20 years of hopes and dreams of simply making the playoffs always being crushed, Toronto has their best record (40-29) they’ve at this point in the season in over a decade and they are four games ahead of the other four teams in the tough AL East because of it.
After an incredibly hot stretch where the team went 15-2 through May and the first week of June, the offense has flat-out died and so have the Blue Jays, losing four of their last five games. This time of year is when things slowly become more meaningful and with a 10-game road trip ongoing and key series against the Orioles and then the Yankees, the Jays will have to respond. Even though the bats have fallen off, the pitching has stayed relatively steady, but come trade deadline time, if fans look up and see the team still up near the top of the heap General Manager Alex Anthopolous is going to need to beef up the arms.
Drew Hutchison has taken great strides toward being a solid front of the rotation kind of pitcher but he’s young without any experience playing meaningful games in September, let alone in the playoffs. Mark Buehrle has been a feel-good story, bouncing back from a rocky start to his Blue Jays career (12-10, 4.15 ERA) to American League leader in wins. Then things fall off. You’re not going very far with the back-end of the pitching staff consisting of a raw rookie in Marcus Stroman; a mediocre left-hander in JA Happ; an underwhelming Knuckleballer in RA Dickey; a solid young pitcher in Drew Hutchison.
As a fan, in my lifetime, I’ve never really had the opportunity to feel the rush of a Blue Jays team chase down a playoff berth, let alone a chance at finishing on top of the oft-hailed “hardest division in baseball”. Right now, I’m trying to keep a very “cautiously optimistic” view of things, but do I ever want to see playoff baseball that I don’t have to watch on VHS tapes… (Yes, it’s been that long.)
2014 NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
For just about everyone who doesn’t live in Miami and certainly everyone in Cleveland, LeBron James and “The Big Three” of the Miami Heat are on the brink of handing over the Larry O’Brien trophy to the San Antonio Spurs for a fifth time on Sunday night in San Antonio. Although the average age of the Spurs’ “Big Three”, power forward Tim Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and guard Manu Ginobli nears 100, the Heat have been the ones that look old and tired. The Spurs have used smooth ball movement to simply run the Heat ragged on the defensive end and have been shooting the lights out all series. Kawhi Leonard, who leads the second generation of head coach Gregg Popovich’s Spurs along with Danny Green, have taken over games with their perimeter shooting and Leonard’s strong defensive presence when matched up against LeBron, who’s shown moments of greatness, but lacks any sort of support.
With a victory in this year’s Finals, I don’t think there can be any doubt that Tim Duncan is one of the best big men (and overall players) in NBA history. The Big Fundamental doesn’t get the kind of credit he deserves due to his and the team’s style of play. Most double-doubles in NBA playoff history now, probably five championship rings – something only 22 others can say they’ve accomplished – and a career stat line of 19.9 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game with a .506 fieldgoal percentage for 17 seasons isn’t too shabby either.
It’s too bad that some of this is overshadowed by things like game 1’s “Cramp Gate”. But whether you’re a LeBron lover or hater, the Spurs have simply been the better team and deserve to win the title.
All eyes will be on James for the summer premier of “The Decision Part II” in July when he has the option to opt out of his current contract and pursue free agency, which there’s no denying he will do. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed in Miami when it’s all said and done, but regardless he’s going to have a shiny new max contract to sign along the dotted line (and he certainly isn’t taking his talents back to Cleveland).
2014 US Open Championship
With no Tiger Woods in the field, the opening round storyline revolved around Phil Mickleson’s pursuit of the career grandslam in golf, winning all four majors: The Masters (he’s won three times: 2004, 2006 and 2010), PGA Championship (won once: 2005), The British Open (won once: 2013) and the aforementioned US Open. It’s looking like once again the US Open will elude Lefty for at least one more year as German golfer, Martin Kaymer has been tearing up Georgia’s Pinehurst No. 2 golf course. Shooting a course record 65 (-5) both days going into the weekend, the 2010 PGA Championship winner is clear ahead of the field with a six stroke lead.
Writer’s note: I work at a golf course and Pinehurst looks like how one is NOT supposed to look. You’re supposed to grow grass, not turn it into a wasteland to shoot out of.
FIFA World Cup 2014
Only a couple games in and there’s already been an upset big enough to at least momentarily grab people’s attention away from the three-hour traffic jams in Rio. Defending World Cup and Euro Cup champs, Spain fell in dramatic fashion to the Dutch team Spain beat in the 2010 World Cup final. When 90 minutes was completed, the score line was the Netherlands, 5 and Spain, 1. With Spain now has to be careful with an early loss and a minus-four goal differential this early can spell trouble for La Furia Roja and their positioning coming out of the group stage.
Things really get going on the weekend with England facing Italy on Saturday and super powers Argentina and France playing on Sunday.
Even if the Stanley Cup has been hoisted by the Los Angeles Kings and hockey has concluded for another season, there is no reason to fret. This is simply a small sampling of the sports the month of June will be featuring.