The Week Ahead: Smoltz returns, a day early

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John Smoltz makes his anticipated return to the mound on Thursday. It
is also his anticipated debut for the Boston Red Sox, who signed him
away from Atlanta in the offseason after the Braves showed somewhat
tepid interest in keeping their aging star.

There is one problem with Smoltz’s return, it would have been a lot more fun if it had come a day or two later.

On Thursday, Smoltz will take the mound in Washington against
baseball’s worst team – the Washington Nationals. On Friday, Boston
begins a three-game series at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves.

Clearly the Red Sox are easing the veteran right-hander back into things, and Smoltz himself says that’s fine with him.

“I’m not afraid of any challenge or anything that comes about. It’s
just, I’ve got to be realistic to see that this scenario would have
been much more than just a regular first-game start.”

Smoltz already paid respects to his former teammates when the Braves
were in Boston this past week, but it still would’ve been fun to have
them face off against each other. Now the only way that happens this
year is if both teams reach the World Series – unlikely to say the
least.

Meanwhile, Boston fans, already undoubtedly pleased with Dice-K’s trip to the disabled list,
can get excited about adding another strong, veteran pitcher to the
rotation. A guy who has made it a habit to be dominant on the mound, even when injured.

“Even when he’s not healthy, his numbers don’t fluctuate,” marveled
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “He’s had a remarkable career.”

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

  • Cardinals at Mets, June 22-25: This four-game set could go a
    long way toward determining whether the Mets can hang with the
    contenders for the rest of the season.
  • Phillies at Rays, June 23-25: A rematch of last October’s World Series. Only this time, Pat Burrell will be wearing the home whites at Tropicana Field.
  • Cubs at White Sox, June 26-28:
    The Cubs enter the week on a four-game winning streak and have climbed
    within 2 ½ games of the NL Central lead. The White Sox have won two
    straight and have climbed within throwing distance of .500.
  • Red Sox at Braves, June 26-28: Smoltz is back in the house, though he won’t pitch for the Red Sox in Atlanta. Unless … anyone want some rain on Thursday?
  • Yankees at Mets, June 26-28: The Subway Series, Part Deux. The
    Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium, but now we’re travelling
    to Queens. Will it make a difference? Will A-Rod take a break?

    ON THE TUBE

    Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Mets (ESPN2)
    Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Braves (ESPN2)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at White Sox (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Diamondbacks (FOX)
    Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (TBS)
    Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)

    *Check local listings

  • Bruce Maxwell is the first MLB player to take a knee during the National Anthem

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    Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

    “Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

    Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

    Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

    While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

    Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

    Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.

    Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103-MPH comebacker

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    This one is brutal. Tigers’ right-handed reliever Alex Wilson was diagnosed with a broken leg after taking a blistering 103.8-MPH line drive off of his right leg during Saturday’s game against the Twins. According to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, it’s a non-displaced fibular fracture, but will still warrant an extended recovery period and signal the end of Wilson’s season.

    Wilson replaced Drew VerHagen to start the eighth inning and worked a full count against Joe Mauer. Mauer roped an 93.3-MPH fastball back up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on his right calf. While Mauer took first base, Wilson got to his feet and tried to toss a warm-up pitch, but was in too much pain to continue and had to be helped off the field.

    Even in a season that isn’t going anywhere in particular, this isn’t how you want it to end. The Tigers have yet to announce a recovery timetable for the 30-year-old reliever, but he won’t return to the mound until 2018. He exited Saturday’s outing with a 4.35 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 60 innings.

    The Tigers currently trail the Twins 10-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning.