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Lou Piniella’s advice for Tampa Bay Lightning

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A thing I would not know if I did not get copied on emails from a company that broadcasts NHL games: the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in hockey his year and stand a decent chance at breaking the Detroit Red Wings’ all-time record for wins in a season. That’s pretty neat.

A thing the Tampa Bay Lightning has to worry about as a result of how they’e doing: balancing that shot at history with the need to rest guys for what, especially in the NHL, is a grueling playoff format.

A person who knows about what that entails: Lou Piniella, who lives in Tampa but one time managed a Seattle Mariners team that had a shot at similar regular season glory. That 2001 M’s squad tied the single-season win record at 116 (the 1906 Cubs won that many in fewer games) but famously flamed out in the ALCS to the Yankees. Fairly or not, history has treated that team as a disappointment because, in sports, we have come to consider anything less than a championship as failure.

Piniella talked about that team and the balancing of the regular season win record vs. postseason strategy. He tells the Tampa Bay Times that, yep, it was a choice to try for 117:

“Remember, it was 9/11 that year, we had about a two-week break. So, we had to make a tough decision. Do we go for the record or rest our team entirely?” he said. “We had a big enough lead. We decided to take a shot at it while still being able to rest our pitching as well as we could. We had a Hall of Fame GM in Pat Gillick. We talked all the time about it. And we talked to the players. We had a clubhouse meeting. The players wanted to go for it.

“As it was, we lost to Texas in the final game of the season. We would have won 117 but came out at 116. I don’t regret it at all.”

He doesn’t regret it because, as he explained, the Mariners’ loss in the ALCS was not a function of regular season fatigue. It was a function of the Yankees having better pitching, exacerbated by the fact that the M’s inferior pitching staff was stretched to the limit in an unexpectedly tough ALDS series against the Indians. That’s true. I’ll add that my memory of that series involved the M’s, who had played in good luck all year, simply having their luck run out. They were down early often, didn’t hit with runners in scoring position and generally got outplayed. In other words: the Yankees, even if they were underdogs in the series, were a fantastic team and the defending champs, anything can happen in a short series, stuff, in fact, happened, and that was that.

Piniella says in the article that a regular season wins record is “a double-edged sword.” Based on why the M’s lost to the Yankees, I don’t think he really means that it’s a bad thing for one’s competitive prospects in the postseason. I think it has more to do with over 17 years of talk about the disappointment of 2001. Which is to say it’s a double-edged sword with respect to one’s legacy, not one’s team in the moment. At least that’s how I’m reading it.

So, go ahead and shoot for 63 wins, Lightning. Just make sure you have whoever your equivalent of Jamie Moyer is fully rested before the Stanley Cup Final begins.

Cole Hamels done for year after just 1 start for Braves

Cole Hamels triceps injury
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ATLANTA — After making just one start for the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels is done for the season.

Hamels reported shortly before the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins that he didn’t feel like he could get anything on the ball. The left-hander was scheduled to make his second start Tuesday after struggling throughout the year to overcome shoulder and triceps issues.

The Braves placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Sept. 18,, but that was a mere formality. General manager Alex Anthopoulos already contacted Major League Baseball about replacing Hamels in the team’s postseason player pool.

“Cole knows himself and his body,” Anthopoulos said. “You trust the player at that point when he says he can’t go.”

The Braves began Monday with a three-game lead in the NL East .and primed for their third straight division title.

Even with that success, Atlanta has struggled throughout the shortened 60-game series to put together a consistent rotation beyond Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson.

Expected ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending injury, former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was demoted after just one start, and Sean Newcomb also was sent to the alternate training site after getting hammered in his four starts.

The Braves have used 12 starters this season.

Anthopoulos had hoped to land another top starter at the trade deadline but the only deal he was able to make was acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles. He’s on the injured list after getting hammered in three starts for the Braves, giving up 22 hits and 16 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

“There’s no doubt that our starting pitching has not performed to the level we wanted it to or expected it to,” Anthopoulos said. “I know that each year you never have all parts of your club firing. That’s why depth is so important.”

Hamels, who signed an $18 million, one-year contract last December, reported for spring training with a sore shoulder stemming from an offseason workout.

When camps were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamels was able to take a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation. But a triceps issue sidelined again before the delayed start of the season in July.

The Braves hoped Hamels would return in time to provide a boost for the playoffs. He also was scheduled to start the final game of the regular season Sunday, putting him in position to join the postseason rotation behind Fried and Anderson.

Now, Hamels is done for the year, his Braves’ career possibly ending after he made that one appearance last week in Baltimore. He went 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, with two strikeouts and one walk in a loss to the Orioles.

Hamels reported no problems immediately after his start, but he didn’t feel right after a bullpen session a couple of days ago.

“You’re not going to try to talk the player into it,” Anthopoulos said. “When he says he isn’t right, that’s all we need to hear.”

Atlanta recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson to replace Hamels on the 28-man roster. The Braves did not immediately name a starter for Tuesday’s game.

With Hamels out, the Braves will apparently go with Fried (7-0, 1.96), Anderson (3-1, 2.36) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.74) as their top three postseason starters.

Hamels is a four-time All-Star with a career record of 163-122. He starred on Philadelphia’s World Series-winning team in 2008 and also pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Cubs.