Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Upset and the Devil Child

I'm not a soccer guy.

This in spite of playing AYSO, high school and college soccer for a combined six seasons, and pick-up games on the fields of Boston and Williamsburg, VA for probably another four or five years. Like basketball, it's a sport I enjoy playing more than watching.

That said, I spent a lot of time covering high school soccer when I first broke into reporting, and I do watch the World Cup. Not religiously, but I do enjoy the occasional WC game.

Yesterday team USA accomplished something in the FIFA Cup tournament that most who know soccer would call one of the unlikeliest of achievements. They beat Spain in the semi-finals.

I don't claim to know a lot about the sport from an international perspective, but I know this - US Soccer isn't going to get the credit it deserves for this win due to the lack of interest in this country. Sure, it will from American soccer fans, but it's sad that the rest of the country probably won't acknowledge this win for what it is. This was the US beating Team Russia in hockey in the 1980 Olympics.

The only parallel that doesn't exist is that Spain isn't the big bad villain of a shadow war with the United States. But, otherwise both Spain Soccer and the Russian Hockey (are/were) the best in their respective sports. Spain had gone undefeated for 35 matches, and had notched 15 straight wins. Their goalie had gone the equivalent of five games without giving up a goal when the US scored on him.

Both times the US faced the most dominating team in the sport in the semi-finals, needing to beat that team to move on to the finals. If the Americans can win the FIFA cup, they seal the deal and the parallels with the 1980 US Hockey Team are close to complete. All that will be missing is the attention Hockey got for its win. And that's a shame.

Devil Child...

Jon Lester got the win last night and is now 6-6 after going 6 innings, while giving up 6 hits and striking out 6. Yup, Jon Lester is Damien.

Overall, Lester has put up average numbers this season - 6-6, 4.68 ERA - however, after a rough start to the season, Lester appears to have turned a corner.

Since May 21, the Red Sox lefty is 4-2 in seven starts with five quality starts. He has had only one start in which he gave up more than three earned runs, has given up only one run four times, logged one complete game and has a 2.78 ERA over that stretch.

To put that in perspective, previous to May 21, Lester was 2-4 in eight starts with a 6.51 ERA. Only three of those eight starts qualified as quality starts, and five times he gave up five earned runs or more. On top of that, over the last seven games he has averaged two-thirds of an inning more than he was averaging over his first eight games. While that might not outwardly sound like much, in essence he has pitched roughly an extra five innings.

Speaking of turning a corner, David Ortiz might have. I'm still hoping this isn't just a streak, or a signal that Big Papi has hit the beginning of the end and this is his last hurrah, but after starting horribly, Ortiz has come on strong in June.

Sure, he's only batting .219 with an OPS of .700, but as recently as May 30 the big guy was hitting .185 with an OPS of .569. Since May 30 the big man has been on a tear. He has hit six of his seven homeruns since May 30 he's batting .297 and has 15 (of his 33 total) RBI. For the month of June he's hitting .327.

Historically, his best months have been June (career .307 average in June) and July (.322 for his career), so it should be interesting to see what happens over the next month to Ortiz.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One liners

So...should we just start referring to PED's as Rocket Fuel?

If Tom Brady picks up at the beginning of the coming season where he left off at the end of 2007, what's the over/under for the first bionic man reference? Week three?

If Peyton Manning struggles, what will be blamed first? Age or the change in coaching staff?

If Brady struggles, what's the over/under on blaming him for coming back from rehab too quickly?

This year's Daisuke Matsuzaka has been more crumbling Dice than tumbling Dice. Take your time figuring it out, and get back when you can.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of morons out there complaining about the value for the dollar with the Dice-man. It's three seasons into a six season contract, and this is the only season that the Dice has come up craps, so to speak.

A Penny saved...if Brad Penny continues on pace, he will have a comparable year to his 2006 campaign with the Dodgers...adjusted for pitching in the batter's A-League of course. For what it's worth, I'll take 14 to 16 wins from my fourth starter.

Am I the only one hoping that Patrick Chung turns out to be a better pick than the last man the Pats drafted with that last name - Eugene Chung?

Should we call him Steroidin' Sammy now?

Yeah, I'd be peeved at Alex Rodriguez if I were Yankee management - fatigue from an operation and playing are one thing, but Jet-setter Lag?

Yup, sometimes it's the trade that didn't happen that determines the fate of a franchise. How about them Apples, NY?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Least surprising news ever

So, Sammy Sosa tested positive back in 2003 along with Alex Rodriguez. The news of this comes out only a few short weeks after Sosa went public, lobbying for his place in the Hall of Fame.

In an interview with ESPN Deportes at the beginning of June, Sosa said,

"Everything I achieved, I did it thanks to my perseverance, which is why I never had any long, difficult moments [as a baseball player]. If you have a bad day in baseball, and start thinking about it, you will have 10 more," Sosa said in his first public comments in months.

"I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?"


"I always played with love and responsibility, and I assure you that I will not answer nor listen to rumors," Sosa said. "If anything ugly comes up in the future, we will confront it immediately, but with all our strength, because I will not allow anybody to tarnish what I did in the field."

Coincidence that his name gets leaked three weeks after he begins to lobby for the Hall? I think not.

The only two places this could be coming from are either the Union, or the Justice Department which forced baseball to turn over the list. My guess is that it's being leaked by someone in Justice.

At this point he can pretty much kiss the Hall goodbye as he definitively has joined the ranks of McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, and A-Rod as players whose artificially inflated numbers are being viewed with either increased or overwhelming skepticism.

Typically, I'm not big on comparing players from different eras in baseball, but this is different. Everything is skewed from about 1990ish on. Some players used PEDs, some didn't. But it should change how players are viewed, and this most recent era almost demands we consider how these players would have done in earlier eras. And I don't think they would hold up well.

We have lived through an era that should make anyone who knows the history of the game appreciate those who came before much more. Appreciate Roger Maris and Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth all the more for knowing they did it not only without things like steroids and HGh, but without the diluted pitching that sluggers have faced for the last two decades.

Does anyone really believe that without steroids and facing the likes of Sandy Koufax, or Tom Seaver, or Don Drysdale in their primes that Jason Giambi would have anywhere near the same number of career homers? Barry Bonds? Alex Rodriguez?

We live in an era where pitchers average only about six innings per outing, in spite of the fact that they get an extra day of rest from the five man rotation as opposed to the four man rotation that was popular 40 and 50 years ago. As recently as the 1970's and early 80's a horse was a pitcher who threw 250 to 300 innings in a season. Now if a pitcher hits 200 innings he's the horse of a rotation.

At one point the Orioles had four 20 game winners in one season. There were four in all of baseball last season. That staff (1971 Orioles) also accounted for 70 complete games. Last season it took 21 pitchers to combine for that many complete games.

On a lighter note -

David Ortiz is actually hitting over .300 for the month of June and has raised his batting average by 22 points. I'm still a little skeptical given the fact that he has always hit the Yankees well for his career and he's currently facing the Marlins after facing the Tigers and Rangers. The only one of those teams with decent pitching is Detroit. Otherwise, the Yankees are 26th, the Marlins 22nd, and the Rangers are 17th in team ERA.

I'm not saying that I'm not happy about this streak, I'm just saying that I'm hoping it's not just a streak. I will feel a whole lot better if Ortiz can get that batting average up to around .240, particularly given the fact that I sincerely believe that Varitek will go into his usual cool down mode as summer heats up.

It is possible that facing the weak pitching is exactly what Big Papi needs to break him out of his funk, but give it to the All-Star Break before you get too excited. In other words, be happy for now, but if he takes a hard left turn back to where he was, don't be surprised. I'm hoping he doesn't - call it cautious optimism.

As for the potential of the Sox going to a 6 man rotation - it's something I think might help Daisuke Matsuzaka given that he pitched in a 6 man rotation in Japan. Otherwise, I don't know how beneficial this will be to the rest of the staff given the fact that it looks like everyone else has begun to hit a rhythm.

Final note - The Australian football team on which I play, the Baltimore/Washington Eagles kicked off their season with a 105-15 win over the Columbus (OH) Jackaroos. This upcoming weekend is an off-week before we head on up to New York to play the Magpies in Yonkers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crazy eights and other observations

Eight in a row after an eighth inning comeback.

Are the Red Sox in the Yankees' heads? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it's as much the fact that the Yankees just aren't constructed to hang as anything else. Yes, there are a lot of big names in there, but let's really look at this. And just for symmetry, lets look at eight reasons why the Yankees are looking up at the Red Sox after dropping eight in a row to their arch-rivals to start the season (and nine total going back to last season)...

1. CC Sabathia, the would-be ace to get the team over the hump - 5-4 with a 3.68 ERA. Only 50 percent of his starts qualify as quality starts. Solid, yes. Dominating the way an ace should be? Hardly.

2. The revamped bullpen - The Bronx Bombers are 19th in ERA after the 7th inning so far this season with a team ERA of 4.33, and the team as a whole is also 19th in ERA with men in scoring position and 2 outs at 19.73. Sure, no one has a spectacular ERA in that position (the Dodgers lead the league with a 15.86, and the Red Sox are 5th at 16.96, almost three runs better per nine innings than the Yankees). As good pitching will almost always overcome good hitting, this does not bode well for the Bombers as the season progresses.

3. Counting on Wang and Burnett - The Yankees were counting on Chien-Ming Wang to bounce back from a year in which he struggled due to injury during the first time in his career. Wangs' issues, reportedly, had to do with a foot injury. Even if he's healthy, working back from a foot injury is going to affect a pitcher's mechanics. They have also counted on the idea that AJ Burnett would dominate like he did last season. But outside of contract years, Burnett is an imminently mediocre pitcher. AJ was signed with the expectation of being the number two or three guy in the rotation. He would be the four or five guy in the Boston rotation.

4. The New Yankee Stadium - A raucus home park gives any team an advantage. A home park that can't sell a significant portion of its seats due to overpricing gives visiting teams an advantage, particularly when the team is already starting with an overrated pitching staff and has redesigned the home park to be a launching pad.

5. Better depth overall - Without starting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, back-ups Mark Kotsay combined to go 3 for 11 (.273) with one run scored against the Yanks. On top of that, both made spectacular defensive plays in the field on what looked like sure extra-base hits. Instead, Yankees found themselves walking back to their dugout, failing to reach base. For all the talk about the Yankees combating injuries, the Sox played the series without their aforementioned outfielder, started their back-up catcher in one game, and continue to play without their starting short-stop. The back-ups thrust into starting roles this series went 9 for 26 (.346), with two home runs, 3 RBI, 7 of Boston's 17 runs scored. This doesn't even deal with the fact that the Sox bullpen can overcome a bad outing by one of its members. The Yanks' pen can't.

6. David Ortiz - Before anybody reads a whole lot into a potential resurgence of the Boston slugger, it should be noted that Ortiz is batting .263 against the Twins and then it drops again to .235 against Baltimore. There are four AL teams against which Ortiz is batting .160 or below. He's been strong batting .364 against Texas and .313 against Cleveland. He has been a Yankee killer, however, batting .321 with 8 RBI against Yankee pitching.

7. The starting rotation - The Yankee starters are a respectable 21-16, with six starters putting that record together. The Sox, with six starters, racked a 28-18 record. Both teams have logged 60 starts with Sox starters qualifying for 46 decisions and averaging just under 8 decisions per starter as well as 4 wins per starter. NY starters are averaging just a shade over 6 decisions per starter and 3.5 wins per starter. In essence, the Yankees are having to go to their bullpen with greater frequency. During the series, at least 8 of the Boston runs crossed the plate with a Yankee reliever on the mound while Sox starters logged 18 innings in three games to the Yankees' 12.1.

8. Timing - for all the to do made regarding the Yankees errorless streak, it seemed that whenever the Yanks needed a big defensive stop, or a clutch hit, the team came up short while Boston made the plays. Whether it was A-Rod's double clutching leading to unearned runs, or the Sox relievers coming up with the big stop when NY relievers couldn't, the Yankees in the first eight games of the series against the Sox have made mistakes or failed to come through at the worst possible times.

And other observations...

Vince Young wants his starting position back. I suggest he fight for it on the field rather than in the press. I suspect that he's not the only "quarterback of the future" that will end up riding the pine this season. My guess, Matt Leinart continues to ride the pine, as does Tavaris Jackson, and that Jamarcus Russell loses his starting job to Jeff Garcia.

And finally, I suspect that Michael Vick will land somewhere, but not anytime soon, and I can hardly venture a guess as to where he will land. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if no one signs him, but I think someone will at some point. Someone will think that he will make for a good option in the Wildcat, or might help their team out in some way or other. However, given a little bit of time removed from the "excitement" that is the Vick experience, I think that most personnel people have realized that he's not going to be the answer at quarterback, and for all the excitement he might bring on the field, that he's not worth the headache and lack of dedication off of it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rejected headlines

Yanks' Wang flaccid

Limp Wang removed early

Yankees' Wang impotent and ineffective

Yankees kicked in their Wang

Wang's balls help Bombers knuckle under

Sox knock Yanks' Wang

Okay, admittedly this is among my more juvenile posts, but I couldn't resist. Back again when the Sox-Yanks series concludes, and some observations about other NFL happenings like the boneheaded comments of Vince Young and other thoughts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Story lines

There are some interesting story lines developing around sports right now. Some short term, some long term. I wanted to look at some...

Short term...

The Orlando Magic are one blown alley-oop away from being up 2-1 in the finals. Can they actually come back from down 2-0, or are they just making the NBA finals interesting?

Can the Penguins actually go into Detroit and pull off the upset?

Longer term stories to watch...

At some point this season the Yankees are going to win a game against the Red Sox. It could be tonight, it might not be until the next series. But will the Yankees inability to beat the Sox early in the season come back to haunt them late in the season? And on the flip side, how much could this early dominance by Boston play into the team winning the division?

Is David Ortiz actually showing signs of breaking out of his slump? He's riding a seven game hitting streak, and has had hits in 9 of his last 12. Even though it's the only time this season that he's had a hitting streak last more than three games, he hasn't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball. He's had only one multi-hit game in that stretch, and is 10 for 48 (.208) - even if you just look at his seven game hitting streak, he's a respectable 8 for 29 (.276), not exactly tearing the cover off the ball, but better. Right now it's a more compelling story than the Red Sox trials and tribulations at short stop. Will he or won't he?

As bad as Ortiz has been at the plate, Chien-Ming Wang has been worse on the mound for the Yankees. How far can they expect to go with a completely ineffective (defective?) Wang. They're already keeping their fingers crossed that AJ Burnett and Joba Chamberlain can stay healthy, what is their future (this season) going to look like if they have to rely on an imminently hittable Phil Hughes? And how long can Andy Pettitte go, with batters hitting over .280 against him?

I can't help but think over on the gridiron that the Patrick Pass signing was more or less to add depth at the position for training camp. Does he have a shot at the team? Sure, but I would be surprised if he were on the roster on opening day. Honestly, I would be surprised if he made it to the final cuts. It should be interesting to watch.

Of course, there's always the question of Tom Brady's knee, and how he will respond in game situations. A lot of people are talking about early season issues due to shaking the rust off, and while possible, I think Brady will get the time and reps to do that during the preseason games. What people aren't talking about is how the Patriots' schedule might impact their high-octane offense.

After the bye week in 2007, on the team's way to the only 16-0 regular season, the Patriots played seven consecutive cold weather games, four of which were in Gillette, the rest of which were at the Meadowlands, at Buffalo, and at Baltimore. In the coming season, after the bye the Patriots will play nine games. Four games are at home - Miami on November 8, the Jets on November 22, Carolina on December 13, and Jacksonville on December 27. Of those, only the Jets game starts later than 1:00, and the Miami game is early enough in the season that the weather may or may not be a factor.

Of the other five games, one is in Buffalo, three are either in domes or stadiums with retractible roofs (Indy, New Orleans, and Houston), and the other is in Miami. With about half of their remaining games being played either indoors or in warm places, the Patriots offense has a chance to really light things up...assuming Brady is perfectly healthy.

Outside of New England, these are the things to watch -

The play calling of the new staff in Indianapolis. This is going to go a long way towards determining where the Colts end up this season. Will it be a seamless transition from last year? Do all the coaches have a good instinct for the right defense at the right time? Will they find they have the right people at the right positions?

Is Rex Ryan the right man for the job in New York, and are they really going to make any noise with their current quarterback situation?

Can Chad Pennington stay healthy for the entire season? Pennington has struggled his entire career to put together back to back healthy seasons. When healthy he's a top ten QB in the league - no, he doesn't rack up big statistics, but he's smart and doesn't turn the ball over a whole lot, and wins, even with sub-par talent. If Pennington can't stay healthy, the Dolphins have no chance. Healthy, they can still get to the playoffs.

How is the Buffalo soap opera going to play out? Sure, they managed to get an extra weapon in Terrell Owens, but he's paired with, easily, the worst quarterback of his career (after dealing with Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Drew Bledsoe, and Tony Romo), and they open the season without their star running back for three games. If the team starts off 0-3 or 1-2, what's the likelihood that Owens will hold his tongue? The Bills are on the verge of becoming the AFC East's Bengals, or Raiders.

Speaking of the Bengals, after admitting to the press that he mailed it in back in 2008, are there any teammates that are going to trust Chad Ochocinco?

How's Jay Cutler going to fare without any legitimate, top-flight receivers?

How are teams like Denver, Cleveland and Kansas going to fare under their new regimes?

Will Lance Armstrong be ready for the Tour de France coming off his injury?

Off-hand, those are just some of the ones I can think of. Should be a fun year.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Catching up, yet again

As you might be able to tell, I have been busy lately. I have about a half dozen story proposals or so floating out there with various magazines, have been working on home improvements, looking into going back to a staff position somewhere now that my youngest daughter is closing in on two - all of that has taken away from my time here at TAF. There have been a lot of things to comment on that have come and gone in the five days since my last blog post. Here goes...

Overall, I have no vested interest in the NHL finals and little more than that in the NBA finals this year. At least if Carolina had made it to the Stanley Cup round of the post season on the ice, then I would at least have a former New England team to root for, but we have the Penguins and the Red Wings. Eh.

Over on the hardwood...well, let's just say that the entirety of my interest there would be in seeing the Lakers lose. I don't think it's going to happen now that Los Angeles is up 2-0, but I would love to see them lose.

The Lakers are one of those teams that I love to see lose, they're up there with the Yankees, Cowboys, and Raiders. Being a Patriots fan, some might be puzzled that I haven't picked division rivals like the Jets and Dolphins, or even the rival Colts, but there's something different with them.

If the Raiders went 0-16, I would enjoy that, and while I kind of rooted for the Dolphins to match that mark two seasons ago (but only when they were in the 0-13 territory), I much prefer it when the Jets and Dolphins are decent for a couple of reasons - one: better games. Two: I much prefer seeing those teams come close and get knocked out at the hands of the Patriots then to watch them struggled and be eliminated from contention before Halloween.

Speaking of football, I didn't like Peyton Manning's public criticism of the new coaching regime. I don't know if it was more a reflection of the new staff still finding its feet, or a reflection of how spoiled Manning has been due to virtually no coaching defections during his career. In theory, there should be little to no change in how the Colts play the game since the entire coaching staff was there under Tony Dungy, but there's no telling if Pete Metzellars is going to be as good at coaching up line men as Howard Mudd - yes, he did well in the middle of the year taking over for Mudd when Mudd was dealing with health issues, but how does he do starting with a free-agent rookie from scratch like Mudd did with Jeff Saturday? He may be fine, but we just don't really know.

On top of that, the team has new coordinators for pretty much the entire team - offense, defense, and special teams. The play calling will be different. Maybe better, maybe worse.

My guess is that the team shows some growing pains, but they miss the playoffs as a ten or eleven win team, finishing behind the Titans again in their own division.

The Colts enter the season not unlike the Patriots. While the key question for the Colts is "how the is the coaching staff going to perform," the Pats are rolling the dice on the rebuilt knee of their all-pro quarterback. If Brady can play without the knee getting into his head, he should be the same guy they've always had back there. With a very likely revamped and improved Jets defense in week two, the Ravens defense in week four and the Titans and Bucs all in the first seven weeks of the season, fans of the Patriots will find out quickly if Tom Brady is thinking about the knee, or about completing passes.

While the Pats defense was shaky last season, I'm less concerned there based on the moves the team has made, leaving the biggest question on the offensive side of the ball.

Over on the diamond I can't say that homer that David Ortiz had gave me any sort of hope that he's breaking out of that power slump. Big Papi just barely cleared the wall right at the Pesky Pole. In any other ball park that hit is a long single or maybe a double, but certainly not a home run.

Jon Lester's near no-no, however, might be cause for hope. I'm still reserving judgement on the Sox lefty for at least another two starts (he's failed to put together more than two good starts in a row, in spite of leading the team in innings pitched), before I say that he's turned the corner, but things have been encouraging lately.

Through his first eight starts Lester was 4-2 with a 6.51 ERA. He bottomed out in starts five and six, pitching a total of ten innings while giving up 13 earned runs over the two games. It was his worst two game stretch of the year, beating out his first two starts in which he pitched eleven total innings while giving up eleven earned runs.

In the four starts since, Lester has pitched 27.1 innings, gone 3-1 with three quality starts, all the while logging a 2.64 ERA. His next best four game stretch ran from his start on April 19 and ran to May 4. During that stretch he went 2-0, and gave up 10 earned runs over 26 innings for a 3.46 ERA. Like the recent stretch, Lester had three of four quality starts. So, yeah, I'm going with a wait and see approach on the Sox lefty.

While Lester has certainly had his issues this season, and almost all of the pitchers have faltered badly at one time or another, they have all been better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has struggled in just about every outing.

For all of Lester's issues, the Left is averaging 6.1 innings per start. Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett are also averaging 6.1 innings per start. Even the oft maligned Brad Penny is pushing 5.2 innings per start, an average that would be higher were it not for two rough starts in his first three of the season in which he pitched for a grand total of 5.2 in those two starts. The Dice-man? Just a shade under 4.2 innings pitched per game. Yes, that includes a one inning/five-earned run fiasco of a start, that without he is averaging 5.1 innings per start and still has the highest ERA of the starters at 5.88.

While Matsuzaka's stats, sans the one terrible start, is only slightly higher than Brad Penny's 5.85 (overall), and slightly lower than Penny's IP per game, it might do better to look at the number of quality starts each of the Sox starters has turned in...

Matsuzaka - 0 for 6_00.0%
Masterson - 2 for 6*_33.3%
Lester - 6 for 12_ 50%
Penny - 6 for 11_54.5%
Wakefield - 7 for 11_63.6%
Beckett - 8 for 11_72.7%

*One note on Masterson's six starts - his first two starts he failed to go a full six innings, both times leaving after only 5.1 innings, but also leaving the game after giving up only one earned run. During Masterson's run of six starts in place of Matsuzaka, Masterson was 2-2 with a 4.59 ERA while averaging just under six innings per start. How long do they go with Matsuzaka in an effort to let him get his feet before they make a switch to Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden or someone else? How much time does their monetary investment in the Dice-man buy him?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

God...a lot to cover, and little time to do it in...

First, I want to touch on the boneheaded.

James Harrison of the Steelers is an idiot. If you don't want to go to visit the president, fine. Don't tell me it's because if the Cardinals had won that they would have been invited and then go calling the president a fair weather fan because of it. I mean, is he really that ignorant?

Speaking of ignorant - I think that LeBron James ranting about being a competitor rings really hollow as an excuse to not shake hands and to not talk to the press immediately following getting bounced from the playoffs is hollow, immature, and bush league. I could put together a list of people that are extraordinarily competitive that haven't done that - Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Curt Schilling, Pete Rose...the list goes on.

None of those people shied away from the press when they lost, and they understood, as faces of their franchises, that they were expected to act like a leader whether they won, or they were metaphorically kicked in the balls. They knew there was nothing wrong with acknowledging the competition's achievements at their own expense. They may not always say the right things (see Manning's rant about his offensive line a couple of years ago - even if it's accurate, you don't throw teammates under the bus).

On a personal note, I was offended. I'm a very competitive guy. Over the years, since a kid through now I played baseball (little league and college), football (HS, semi-pro), street hockey (8 years), ran track (7 seasons HS and college), soccer (youth, HS, college), martial arts (25 years), and Australian football (10 seasons). In that time I was involved with some absolutely dominant teams (in all six HS seasons of track the team I ran on either outright won or tied for the league championship in every season), and some absolute dogs (in two seasons of division 3 college baseball I played for a team that went 2-18. We lost to teams such as the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy...yes, we lost to future pharmacists).

I'm not saying that people should be happy about losing. In no way, shape or form am I saying that. But there's nothing wrong with congratulating someone on beating your brains in. Nothing wrong at all in acknowledging that you and your team were outplayed.

Other quick thoughts...

Right now, based on recent starts, the Sox rotation, in regards to the importance of what the starters are doing for them looks like this -

Josh Beckett
Brad Penny
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka

For the last month Beckett has been the ace that they had two seasons ago. Hopefully that lasts.

Penny, for all the talk about trading him before the deadline, has been the team's most consistent starter, outside of Beckett since the end of April. Until they have a sure-thing number-two starter, Penny has made himself near indispensable in the Sox rotation.

Overall, Wakefield has been the Sox best starter, but for the last month he's been a little erratic. Yes, he carried the rotation in April, but with two tough starts in the last month, Wake has fallen to the middle of the rotation. Still, assuming he stays healthy, he's on pace to win fifteen or more games this season.

Lester has been a crap shoot all season long. One start he'll be absolutely dominating and look like he's turned the corner, the next he'll get lit up for seven runs in four innings. If he can put together more than two good starts back to back, well, let's just say that would be a nice change and a good place to start.

I just can't put Matsuzaka any higher than fifth in this list, in spite of Lester's struggles. For all of Lester's problems, he's still averaging six innings per start. Matsuzaka has managed to pitch into the sixth inning in only one of his starts and has averaged 4.1 innings per start. Only once in his five starts has he given up fewer than three earned runs. Yes, his last start was encouraging, but he's still at the bottom of the pile right now.

Finally (regarding the Red Sox), I'm not buying into the Renaissance of Jason Varitek. Yes, he's putting up decent numbers (he's on pace for about 30 home runs and 66 RBI), but at the end of May last year 'Tek was batting .272 through 46 games. At the time he was on pace for 20 home runs and 60 RBI. The remainder of the season he batted .191 and finished with 13 homeruns and 43 RBI. For the final two-thirds of the season he hit all of six home runs and had 23 runs driven in. When the weather got hot, 'Tek's bat cooled off.

That wasn't a complete fluke. In 2007 'Tek hit .245 for the balance of the season after hitting .277 for the first two months of that season. Overall the Sox catcher finished on pace for homeruns (he was on pace for 15 and finished with 17) but off the pace for RBI (he was on pace for 78, but finished with 68). Sure, that last one wasn't a huge difference, but it is an illustration of Varitek's drop off in production during warmer weather in each of the last couple of seasons.

My guess is that his bat cools off over the next couple of months and he finishes around .220 with under 50 RBI and between 15 and 20 HR. I just hope I'm wrong.

The last thing I wanted to touch on...

All the reports out of Foxboro are that Tom Brady is moving well in OTA's.

My guess is that Brady will see some significant time in at least one, if not two of the preseason games for two reasons. The coaching staff is going to want him to shake off the rust of a season off, and more importantly, to see how he reacts to bodies around him. Watch him step up in the pocket, avoid the rush, see if the knee is in his head, so to speak.

If he comes through with flying colors, it could be a very interesting season for the Pats.

Offensively this team broke a ton of records two seasons ago. Both Randy Moss and Wes Welker were in their first year in the system. That included playing the team's final seven games all in cold/bad weather locations after mid-November.

Is the offense going to be as good? Probably not - 2007 was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of season, but an argument can be made to expect big things.

Moss and Welker are in their third season in the system. Brady has a season of rest. His third and fourth options with Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis (not to mention Sam Aiken) are better than what he had then. He should have a healthy stable of running backs going into the season - also better than they were then with the addition of Fred Taylor and the return of a healthy Laurence Maroney, along with Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk.

If the O-line stays healthy, they could still put up big numbers.

On top of all that, I firmly believe that the defense has upgraded with Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs on the corners, and mind you this is merely a guess, but I would put odds on the Patriots signing the recently released Greg Ellis to bolster the linebacking corps which I think is going to get a boost from a healthy Shawn Crable anyway. The defense's big problem is that a number of the players in the second level are new to the system. If they come together, this defense has the potential to be one of the best of the Belichick era.

Of course all of this is contingent upon being healthy. A hard thing in the NFL.

And a final Patriot note -

Happy trails Rodney Harrison. I'm looking forward to your career as an analyst.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Starting picture

Red Sox starters, expected to be a strength of the team, have had a rough go of it through the first two months. Daisuke Matsuzaka has managed only three starts and a stratospheric ERA of 10.32. Of the team's other five starters (with at least six starts), only Tim Wakefield (3.99) and Justin Masterson (4.47) have ERA's below five. Currently would-be ace Josh Beckett is at 5.01, last year's best pitcher, Jon Lester is cruising at 5.91, and free-agent pick-up Brad Penny is floating a 5.96.

While Wake has been the team's ace, even winning two of his three bad outings, and Masterson has been excellent in all but two of his starts (a 2.35 ERA in the four starts not including the May 1 and 6 starts), the rest of the staff has struggled. In some of those cases, however, the struggles might be somewhat superficial.

Of the team's starting five, Lester has been the most erratic having given up three or fewer earned runs in four of his nine starts, but five or more in the other five starts. In three of his starts following a start in which he gave up five or more earned he has bounced back to give up 0, 3, and 1 earned respectively. Unfortunately, the question for his next start revolves around which Lester is going to show up.

Beckett and Penny, on the other hand, have begun to show signs of life.

Beckett hit rock bottom on April 30 when he failed to make it out of the 5th inning at Tampa, making it second start in back to back starts in which he failed to pitch more than five innings (the only time he's gone fewer than six innings in any start this season). His ERA topped out at 7.22 that day. Since his ERA has decreased in every subsequent start. In his four starts since, Beckett has averaged 6.2 innings per start and has an ERA of 2.67 while going 2-0, and is one blown save from being 3-0 in that stretch.

As for Penny - I addressed him last week, but will run the numbers based on his subsequent start anyway. Penny almost had an extended Spring Training going through his first four games of the season, getting yanked from his fourth start before he could complete three innings. Like Beckett, however, he's seen his ERA drop from 8.66 with every subsequent start since.

His most recent start in Minnesota, during which he was throwing up between innings, was the first since that 2.2 inning start in April in which he failed to pitch six complete innings, getting pulled after getting one out in the sixth. Even so, he's averaged just about 6.1 innings per start, with a 4.40 ERA and 3-1 record.

It's just a guess, but assuming Penny isn't traded, but 15-5 with an ERA around 4.00 isn't unrealistic for him. If Lester can find the groove he was in last season, and Matsuzaka can re-find his form, this can be a tough staff for any team to have to deal with.

If they continue to have issues, don't be surprised to see Clay Buchholz back in the bigs, or John Smolz when he's ready.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Not a reflection on the team, per se, but is it just me, or is "D-Backs" a little too close phonetically to "d-bags"?

What a weird twelve months of Boston sports - the Pats win 11 games and miss out on the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox go to game seven in the ALCS before being eliminated. The Celtics and the Bruins make it to game seven in their respective semi-final series. That's a whole lot of close, but no enchilada.

What's the common thread there? Injuries to key players.

Phil Kessel and David Krejci both scheduled off-season surgery the minute the Bruins were bounced from the playoffs, and Aaron Ward played in spite of a broken orbital socket. The Celtics played without Kevin Garnett or Leon Powe, the Sox went deep into the playoffs with injuries to David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and Josh Beckett. None of the teams was hit as hard as the Patriots, though, which made a run at the playoffs without starting corners, down to their third string OLB on the right side, at times down to their fourth running back, and of course, sans Tom Brady.

What do they do if any of these teams remained healthy? Sure, it's irrelevant, but it's fun to speculate.

It was nice to see Ortiz finally hit a home run, and what's more, he hit it to the deepest part of Fenway.

Is Brad Penny hitting his stride? Since a somewhat rough outing on April 28 when he gave up seven runs in 2.2 innings (only 4 earned), Penny is 2-1 with one no-decision in for starts, has a 4.26 ERA, while averaging 6.1 innings per start, and has a strike out to walk ratio of 3 to 1 while holding opponents to no home runs during the stretch.

Contrast that to his first four starts during which he was 2-0 with two no-decisions, averaged 4.1 innings per start, had a 8.66 ERA and a strike out to walk ratio of just around 1 to 2 while giving up five homers in the four games.

Sure, Penny hasn't been dominant, but those last four games he's started putting up numbers that are solid - the sort of numbers that could keep him in the rotation if he keeps it up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three, it's a magic number...

Last night the three active Boston area spots teams - Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox - won their respective games.

The Bruins were first up and the first one's done, winning their playoff game to knot their series with the one-time Whalers at three games a piece. By the time the Carolina Hurricanes scored their second goal, the B's already had a three-goal cushion. The Bruins have now won two straight after dropping three. They are now 3-0 against the 'Canes when scoring at least three goals and 0-3 when the 'Canes have scored at least three goals.

Now the Bruins are returning to Boston and going for a third straight win in order to wrap up the series.'s a magic number.

The Celtics were second on the docket, for the third time mounting a comeback from a double digit deficit in order to go up on the Magic 3-2. In all three of the games in which Boston trailed by more than ten the winning margin has averaged 3.3 points. In the three games Boston is 2-1. With Orlando returning home for a third game in Florida and their backs against the wall, the pressure is squarely on the Magic.

Speaking of three, a beat up and bloodied Celtics team is doing it not just sans Kevin Garnett, a member of the team's nouveau Big Three of Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, but without their second option at the position - Leon Powe. This has left them with their third option at the power forward - Glenn "Big Baby" Davis.

They are doing it with the two aforementioned forwards on the bench with knee injuries, and with their point guard playing on two bad ankles.

Three times in this series a guard not named Ray Allen came up big for the Celtics. In their blowout win Eddie House led all scorers with 31 points including 12 on 4 for 4 three-point shooting. On the night that Davis hit the buzzer-beater, Rajon Rondo scored 21 and led the Celtics in rebounds with 14. Then last night, when Rondo struggled and got into foul trouble, Stephon Marbury may have scored only 12, but it was all in the fourth quarter, igniting the Celtics' 33 point fourth quarter.'s a magic number.

Over on the West Coast in a third different city the Red Sox were busy giving up one run every three innings only to score three in the last two to complete the comeback win. The Sox used three relievers over the last three innings to hold the Angels in check while the Sox finally got to the Angels' third reliever of the night for their third run off the Angels' bullpen with the winning knock coming from Jason Varitek in the bottom third of the Sox' order.

Yup,'s a magic number.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where to start...

Okay, so I've been incommunicado for a couple of weeks - that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention.

Mixed in with all the articles - magazines, the Brewing News and such - there have been a couple of weeks of interesting New England Sports. Jason Bay is tearing it up for Boston, a wounded Celtics team is looking like they might arrange for a date with the Cavaliers, the Bruins are fighting their way out of a hole, and our old friend Manny is being Fe-Maley.

I don't know what's going on with Red Sox pitching, but Josh Beckett looked better in his recent outing against the Rays than he has all season, but he still had the rough inning. Well, rough-ish. Somehow, in spite of less than sterling starts to the season from Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Brad Penny, the Sox still have managed to win 20 games, good for second best in the American League and tied for the third best record in the majors.

Currently de-facto Ace Tim Wakefield, yes, you read that right, is leading the team with 20 percent of the team's wins and a 2.93 ERA. Mixed in there Wake has had the pitching staff's only two complete games.

One of the other encouraging things about the Red Sox - even though they have played almost 25 percent of their games without Kevin Youkilis, with David Ortiz batting a measly .224 and Jason Varitek picking up where he left off last season with a rousing .227 average, the team is second in the majors in RBI's and runs scored in large part to Jason Bay who leads the team and is second in both the American League and the Majors with 34 RBI's. Bay is also tied for third in the AL with nine home runs. Bay hasn't done it without help.

He's been helped by a now healthy Mike Lowell. Lowell is second on the team with 28 RBI's and six home runs.

Good to see in the absence of a functional Big Papi.

Speaking of Papi, it seems I'm not the only one who doesn't buy his former battery mate's explanation for utilizing a female fertility drug/hormone. It seems almost no one believes that Manny was taking HCG to increase his sperm count. An aging slugger whose production had slipped for two and a third seasons before forcing a trade, suddenly goes on a freakish tear with his new team at an age when no one (that isn't juicing) has ever gotten better.

Do the math.

I'm not saying it isn't possible he was juicing before last season - hell, it would certainly explain some of the boneheaded mood swings and inexplicable behavior.

It took long enough, but it was nice to see the Bruins finally show up for another game in their series against the one-time Whalers. Hopefully it's not to late.

Is it just me, or are the Celtics like a zombie movie at this point? Bodies keep going down, but they just keep coming and coming and coming. Who would really have believed that Glenn "Big Baby" Davis, Eddie House and Rajon Rondo would be the weapons other teams had to account for?

I'm still not convinced that the Celtics have the horses to make it to the finals, but I don't know that I would be all that surprised if they do. Chicago pushed them to the brink, Orlando had a chance to stick a dagger in them and couldn't.

Each series thus far the experts have predicted the Celtics' demise due to match-up issues. If they survive Orlando the talk is going to be about how the Celtics are old and tired from their long series against Orlando, and their even longer one against the Bulls. They will talk about who defends who and how the Cavs have been rested and how they have been destroying their opponents. And all of it will be true - they should cause match-up problems with the Celtics, and they should be Boston handily.

I'm just not convinced it's going to happen that way.

I'm not saying that I think the Celtics are going to make it to the finals. I think it's unlikely, particularly given the team's injuries. But I don't think that it's going to be the cakewalk that Cleveland's first two series have been.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Cardiac Kids

I'm not a big basketball fan. I don't watch a whole lot of it until the playoffs come around - and even then, I watch a whole lot less than most basketball fans.

That said, with the exception of the one blow-out win, the Celtics aren't making this easy on their fan-base. Through five playoff games the Celtics and bulls have played four overtime periods following the end of regulation three times. In all but one game the margin of victory has been three points or less. I could be wrong, but I would venture to say that this hasn't ever happened before in a contest between the two and seven seeds in the NBA playoffs.

There's a chance that the results would be different if Kevin Garnett were on the floor, but with the way the Bulls are playing, I'm not convinced that would be true. Maybe one of the other close games swings in the favor of the Celtics, but I don't know that they would have opened up a big lead on Chicago even with the big man in the middle.

Over on the diamond -

So the Sox were handed their first loss in eleven games. Not surprisingly, it came during a Brad Penny start. Penny failed to make it out of the third inning, giving up seven runs (four earned), which has put him on a pace for roughly one earned run per inning worked.

One has to wonder how many more starts Penny will get before he gets yanked from the starting rotation.

The Penny signing I still maintain was a smart signing. For his career he has generally had an ERA between 3.00 and 4.75 and over the course of the previous nine seasons has averaged 10.5 wins per season. That included last year's off year when Penny had an ERA over 6.00 and started fewer than 20 games for the first time in his career.

Additionally, Penny signed a small money contract of $5 million that can earn an additional $3 million in performance bonuses: $500,000 each for 160 innings or 55 games as pitcher, 170-65 and 180-75; $500,000 for 190 innings or 35 games finished, and $1 million for 200 innings or 50 games finished. Right now I would say odds are he won't earn those incentives unless he turns it around soon.

My guess, if he struggles through his next four or five starts, and Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back strong, that Penny will end up on the DL with "arm fatigue" like Matsuzaka did and that Justin Masterson will get a few more turns in the rotation.

Bon Voyage, Ellis Hobbs...

I sincerely wish Ellis Hobbs the best as he moves onto a new career in Philadelphia. Hobbs will be remembered by many, quite unfairly, as being the goat in the Super Bowl against the Giants. At the end of the game, Hobbs - playing with a pulled groin and a badly damaged shoulder - was asked to cover Plaxico Burress on the game deciding play.

Twice earlier in the same drive, however, Asante Samuel screwed the pooch...badly. Samuel had a game-clinching interception go through his hands on one play, and was the cover guy on David Tyree on the helmet catch. Samuel can be seen in certain angles on the play jogging behind Tyree rather than running with him. Had Samuel been where he was supposed to be, it's unlikely that Tyree would have come down with the ball on that third down play.

Good luck Ellis, you played hard for us and your kick returns were things of beauty.

And a final gift for my football fan readers -

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Congrats to Mackenzie Brown, the 12-year old little leaguer from Bayonne who recently tossed a perfect game. It was the first in the history of that little league. She mowed down the entire team she faced - all boys - and in so doing, she got to throw out the first pitch at Saturday's game between the Mets and Nats at CitiField.

The Sox have now won 11 in a row. I can't help but think it's because a 42 year-old knuckleballer put the team on his shoulders when they needed someone to do it, and were it not for that near no-no by Tim Wakefield 11 games ago, the team might still be struggling.

Another note regarding the pitching - Jonathan Papelbon is on pace for 40 saves this season. Former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito could have close to 20, playing Jesse Orosco to Papelbon's Roger McDowell. Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen were tied for second on the team last season with two a piece to Paps' 41. From 1985-88, the wacky McDowell averaged 20 saves per season for the Mets while Orosco, the older veteran, averaged 18 per season as a complimentary piece. While not quite the same, it will be the first time since Papelbon became the team's closer that another pitcher has reached double digits in saves - providing the pace continues. The last time another pitcher even had more than five saves as a member of the Sox was when Mike Timlin racked up nine saves in 2006.

It's been nice to see the Red Sox bats come to life over the last eleven games. Through the first eight, it was as though they were still in extended Spring Training. If the Sox miss the playoffs by a game or two, that 2-6 start will weigh heavily on the team.

One draft note - I have to say that I'm surprised. I really thought that if Clay Matthews, Jr. were available when the Pats were picking that he would be a member of the Patriots today. The flip side - while the team's last two drafts have only been okay, this is a team that has averaged 12 wins per season since 2001, and has missed the playoffs only once in that time - last year when they still won 11 games. So...what do I know?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cashing out

It was a metaphorical jolly stomping in the Fens - an early season referendum on the moves made by Yankees' GM Brian Cashman.

The Sox beat the Yanks in every conceivable way over a three game stretch - out-slugging, out pitching, and just plain out-executing the highest paid team in the majors. The Yankees, with over $200 million in annual salary (since the start of the 2005 season the Steinbrenners have spent over $1 billion on the team and seen their record slide) - again - the Bombers are off to a 9-9 start, have the worst bullpen in baseball, and have the worst overall ERA of any pitching staff in the majors.

Here's what else $200 million has bought New York -

A team outscored 25-16 in three games by their arch-rival.

A team that saw 11 runs and two leads evaporate when the bullpen entered the game.

A team whose second biggest free-agent pitching acquisition was smoked for eight earned after being spotted a 6-0 lead.

A team that saw home stolen on them with two outs in a close game. Let's face it - that last one shows a complete lack of respect for the Yankees. There's no aura left, they're just another team.

And to compound matters - the Red Sox don't even have the second highest payroll in baseball - they're fourth (and a lot closer to being seventh than they are to being third). They lost ugly, are unable to hold a lead, and just look brutal in the field (great play at first by the sure-handed Mark Texiera, huh?).

Anyone else wondering which Celtic team is going to show up for game five? The one that's shot ugly in the close games, or the one that dismantled the Bulls on their home-court in game three?

Kudos to the Bruins for moving on. It would be nice to see Boston land the Stanley Cup before the end of the decade to get that final jewel in the championship crown for the big four. They do it, that will mean that between 2001 and now the city will be home to three Super Bowls, two World Series, an NBA (I still think a second one of these is unlikely this year) and an NHL championship. Not bad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dirty Sanchez

Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have gone there, but I want to address the soaring stock of USC's Mark Sanchez...

A lot of teams seem to be falling over themselves for this kid since the Combine.

Yes, he says the right things, and is evidently very personable, but the odds are against him as a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.

His supporters will point out that he started for USC - a pro-style offense - that he started at USC while Matt Cassel did not, that he lost only one game in his only full season as a starter. But that's really the problem - he's had only one full season. That's been a real trap for teams - scouts get one year looking at a guy who might put up great numbers against mediocre competition. I will come back to Cassel.

Consider - Michael Vick started for two seasons in college and never had a completion percentage as high as 59 percent. That's translated to a completion percentage below 54 in the NFL.

Akili Smith had only one full season in college as a starter and the Bengals made him a number one pick back in 1999. He was 3-14 in the NFL and out of the league in four seasons.

There's actually a long list of college short timers that went high and ended up NFL busts. The lack of information works to a player's favor and against the teams.

Now, onto the Cassel conundrum. People will point out that Cassel, without a college start, is a reason that Sanchez can be successful. While people will argue that, it's not an accurate comparison. Cassel, like quarterbacks 25 years ago, went through the sort of apprenticeship process that was common around the league. Cassel spent four preseasons preparing, three full seasons of practice reps with a professional team, lining up against professional defenses, and even appeared in 14 regular season professional games, racking up 22 completions on 39 attempts before getting his season as a starter. It's not the same as getting a season against college competition.

I'm not saying that Sanchez can't or won't be successful in the NFL. What I am saying is that if he comes into a team and is expected to be the starter when he gets there, then it's highly unlikely that he'll have a good career. If he can go someplace and sit a couple of years and learn the pro-game, he'll be much more likely to be successful.

Given the way quarterbacks are just thrown to the wolves, I have to say I have my doubts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting drafty and some weekend observations...

I'm not a big draft guy.

In spite of how much I enjoy football, I'm not one of those guys who sits down and spends hours watching the draft. I'll flip to it, check the ticker, see who the Patriots picked, but I'm not going to wait and see - in part because I'm not really a college football guy.

That said, I find certain things related to the draft fascinating.

Let's start with the Combine...

Overall, I don't really believe this to be a useless exercise, but I do think the format and some of the perceptions surrounding it to be flawed. The idea that someone should slip precipitously due to a bad 40 time is silly, unless there are mitigating circumstances.

Let's face it, most of these guys teams already have two to four years worth of film on, unless they couldn't crack the line-up until their final year of college. Unless a guy shows up fat, out of shape, and acts like a bone-head, the workout numbers are pointless. The idea that a player can improve their positioning based on a great workout as opposed to what they did on the field is foolish. Some of the biggest draft busts were workout warriors at the Combine. Anyone remember Mike Mammula, the defensive end out of BC? He vaulted himself into the top ten with a monster performance at the Combine, when, realistically, he would likely have been better off as a late first or second round pick - expectations would have been different, and possibly his career as a result.

I'm not saying that they shouldn't have the attendees workout. To the contrary, I believe it allows a team to determine the dedication of the player, but I think much too much stock is given to the numbers that come out of these workouts. And some team is going to make someone a much higher pick in the draft than he deserves because of it.

Sox it to 'Em...

Evidently the Orioles are the tonic for what ails 'em. The Red Sox, coming off a weak start to the season got strong starts from Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, and Tim Wakefield after starting the season 2-6 - and one solid start from Josh Beckett (who continues to struggle with the big inning), the Sox have fought their way back to a 7-6 record. Coincidently, the Salem Red Sox (A ball), met with Frederick Keys for a three game set on Friday, and swept the Orioles A-level affiliate.

A few quick observations -

Lester reportedly looked like the pitcher that was the de facto ace of the staff last season. Hopefully the first two games was just Lester finding his footing in the new season - if so, then the Sox shouldn't have any issues with the starting staff moving forward.

As much as a like what Daisuke Matsuzaka potentially brings to the mound, I have to admit that he makes me nervous as the number two starter. There's something about the way he runs counts up that reminds me a little too much of Heathcliff Sclocumb. Yes, he's better than Slocumb, but his inneficiency tends to be a little nerve wracking. Masterson, on the other hand, filling in for Dice, was quite efficient in walking only two over 5 1/3 innings.

Wakefield's a monster asset. Sure, knuckleballers are the Russian-roullette revolvers of the pitching world, but Wakefield's complete game against the A's before the off-day at the end of last week gave the bullpen a much needed rest, and was the catalyst for what's happening now.

Speaking of Wake, you gotta love the way George Kottarras is calling the game when Wake is pitching. I would love to see if he could work the batting average a bit with some more starts - see if he's the Sox starting back-up of the future.

The jury's still out regarding his bat, but I like what I'm seeing of Nick Green in the field.

One final note...

The Yankees can't be happy that Chien-Ming Wang has been beaten like a cheap pinata this season. With no options, Wang would have to pass through waivers to work out his problems in the minors. What team would claim a pitcher that's 0-3 with a 34.50 ERA over six innings spanning three starts?

Sure, there's someone likely to claim him off waivers, but the Yankees aren't going to let that happen. The problem is, after his four out eight earned run start, what do the Yankees do about him?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Minor activities and scheduling thoughts

Friday night in Frederick, MD, a short drive from the Smith homestead, is going to be a fun one. Frederick is the home to the Single A Frederick Keys - part of the Carolina League, and opponent to the Salem Red Sox, who happen to be in town this weekend.

When I first moved to the area the Wilmington Blue Rocks were the Red Sox affiliate that played the Keys, and then the Blue Rocks changed their major league affiliate, leaving me sans Sox prospects to watch. This weekend I get to watch five of the Sox top 20 prospects - Ryan Kalish, Luis Exposito, Yamaico Navarro, Che-Hsuan Lin, and Kyle Weiland - as well as Jonathan Paplebon's brother Josh.

I'll be at the game at Harry Grove Stadium on Friday night with the family, but will probably leave long before the end of the game (hard to stay till the end with a 20-month old), but it's always a fun time. My seven-year old loves the kids' zone with the carousel, and my wife loves the fact that the stadium serves beer from both of the town's brew pubs.

It'll be my first time to the stadium this season. For those of you baseball fans who have never made it to a minor league game, I highly recommend it.

Pats Schedule...

As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that the strength of schedule that people talk about at this time of year is a faulty way to view the difficulties of the coming season. It has no bearing - before last season the Dolphins were a one win team, this season they go in having won 11, the previous season was no predictor of future success.

Based on last season's results, the Pats have the third hardest schedule in the NFL. That said - Miami is sneaking up on no one this season, and while it's possible they might repeat their 11 win performance that won them the AFC East last season, I don't think that they're going to surprise anyone with the Wildcat offense in 2009 and they'll slide. The Jets currently have no quarterback, and key players on the Bills are going to start the season suspended, putting Buffalo into an early hole. And that's just the AFC East. There are definitely issues with some of the other teams as well - are Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan going to have surprise seasons again? I don't think so.

I could go on, but I'm going to address another interesting quirk in the schedule. What happens when the Pats hit the bad weather months of November and December? Let's look at the schedule...

After the bye week at the beginning of November in week 8, the Pats play out the string as follows:

Sun 11/8/2009 1:00 PM vs Dolphins WBZ / CBS

Sun 11/15/2009 8:20 PM @ Colts WHDH / NBC

Sun 11/22/2009 4:15 PM vs Jets WBZ / CBS

Mon 11/30/2009 8:30 PM @ Saints WCVB / ESPN

Sun 12/6/2009 8:20 PM @ Dolphins WHDH / NBC

Sun 12/13/2009 1:00 PM vs Panthers

Sun 12/20/2009 1:00 PM @ Bills WBZ / CBS

Sun 12/27/2009 1:00 PM vs Jaguars WBZ / CBS

Sun 1/3/2010 1:00 PM @ Texans WBZ / CBS

So - in New York, at home, in Houston, at Indy, at home, at home, in New Orleans, at home, at Buffalo.

With the exception of the game at Buffalo in December, the bad weather games the Pats really face are at home in December against the Panthers, and Jaguars, and maybe the November contest against the Jets. Otherwise the Pats are playing in warm climates, or domes. At first glance that might not seem to be important, but for anyone that remembers the way the Pats passing game slowed down at the tail end of the season during their 16-0 run, they might want to think about how Tom Brady and the receiving corps might thrive in some of these late-season contests.

Fewer late season games in cold and wind might mean for a more prolific late season offense, helping to keep the defense off the field.

Back again...

So, after a weekend at the 'rents house with all the siblings and assorted nieces, and a week wherein I've been working on an article for a local business magazine, I finally have some time to look at some of the current sports stories...

Boy did the Sox, and the bullpen need that start from Tim Wakefield. Wake had the knuckleball working so well he took a no-hitter into the eighth only a day after Terry Francona was forced to use six relievers due to the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka couldn't get past the first inning.

While it was good to get the win, I think whether the team won or lost was irrelevant. The fact that Wake gave the team a complete game, however, was huge, and needed more than anything else.

If the Celtics don't get a reasonably healthy Kevin Garnett back...well, let's just say I don't see the team making it to the finals. They got absolutely waxed by the Cavaliers, and eked out a win against a far inferior Sixers team. Playing like that right now could get them ousted in the first round.

That's one hell of a schedule that the Patriots are facing this season. Based on their opponents' records from last season, the Pats have the third hardest road to the post season based on strength of schedule facing only two teams that had a sub-.500 record last season, and only two other teams that had a record as bad as .500.

That said, I would like to note that, for all of that, the strength of schedule as a metric for the difficulty of season means nothing at this time of year - zip. nada. zilch. There are plenty of fans that buy into, though. Last season the Pats started the season with the easiest strength of schedule based on the fact that the teams they were facing were 99-157 in 2007 with games against only 4 of 2007's playoff teams. Those same teams improved by 24 games last season to reflect an aggregate record of 123-133 with games against six of playoff teams, including contests against both of the Super Bowl contestants. That moved the Patriots into the middle of the pack in regards to strength of schedule by the end of the season.

Monday, April 06, 2009

CC Rider

Yesterday was a good day for me.

I finished my taxes only to find I was getting a big, fat refund, and CC Sabathia looked about how I expected him to.

The Yankees' two big off-season acquisitions for the just north of Manhattan Project - Fat Man (Sabathia), and Little Boy (Mark Teixiera), were ugly in their debuts for the Bronx Bommahs. Fat Man's return to the American League, a place where his career stats have always screamed number two starter, was uninspired. The Yankees would-be-ace failed to get out of the fifth inning, giving up six earned runs in four-and-a-third innings for a rousing 12.46 ERA .

I don't expect that Sabathia will be this bad during the course of the season. But I also don't expect him to be good. He dominated the hitter's B-League, tearing up the NL Central, but has only thrice in his eight seasons had an ERA below 3.60 over the course of a full season. And only twice in the AL has he managed an ERA below that number (last season he was at 3.83 before the trade). Additionally, this is a man coming off the two highest inning total of his career (241 in 2007, and 253 in 2008), and he's not exactly a fitness freak. And I addressed that in a previous post when I wrote -

I look at the Yankees off-season and can't help think that they learned nothing from the Carl Pavano signing. Nor have they learned anything from the history of fat pitchers.

The CC Sabathia signing might work well for them in the regular season for the first year or two, but eight seasons? That's nuts.

Sid Fernandez, who had weight issues, last started more than 20 games at age 29. Former Red Sox reliever Rich "El Guapo/the human zeppelin" Garces was respectable until the age of 30. At 31 he posted a 7.59 ERA and was out of baseball after that season. Once dominant Bartolo Colon had an eight season stretch wherein he pitched fewer than 200 innings only once (188 in 2000) and averaged 32.6 starts per season. When he turned 33 he went away - compiling a total of 35 starts and fewer than 200 combined innings over the final three seasons of his career. Sabathia turns 30 in 2010.

The future is not bright for him.
As for Mark Teixiera, I expect he will likely be in line with his career averages when the smoke clears, but putting up a big donut in four at bats, leaving four men on and only getting on base once - not the start that Hank and Hal were hoping for, I'm sure.

Friday, April 03, 2009

An absolute mugging

My initial thought was to describe the Bears trade for Jay Cutler an absolute mugging - the bears traded Kyle Orton and this year's first and third round picks as well as next year's first rounder for Cutler and Denver's fifth round pick this year. My wife pointed out that when one is mugged that the muggee doesn't look at the mugger and say, "here, take my credit cards and cash, and I'll put up some token resistance by making a half-hearted effort to scratch your face."

She's right. No. This was more like Denver telling the Bears to bend over and drop trou, and the Bears saying back, "with Vaseline or without?"

This was an absolute violation of the Catholic priest variety.

As mediocre as Kyle Orton has been, Cutler hasn't actually been significantly better. A quick look -

In three seasons Orton has played in 33 games while Cutler has played in 37 games. I will give Orton's actual numbers and his 37 game projections...

Yes, Cutler has a better completion percentage and put up more yardage - 62.5 percent and 9024 yards to Orton's 55.3 and 5319 yards (5964 over 37 games), but Cutler has also been throwing to the likes of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Javon Walker and Rod Smith. Orton's two best targets in the last three seasons would both be picked after any one of the four above - Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian. The trade will answer the question as to whether the receivers made the QB or vice versa with these two.

But let's look at some other telling stats...

Cutler has thrown 37 interceptions in 37 games, Orton has had 27 in 33. Cutler has an average of 11.8 yards per catch to Orton's 10.5.

But here are some of the really important ones - Orton is 21-12 with and was instrumental in getting the Bears to at least one playoff appearance. Cutler is 17-20 with no playoff appearances. Cutler's best season was 8-8. Orton's? 10-5.

Considering that Cutler was drafted 11th and Orton 106th, I would expect more from Cutler than this.

And if I were a Bears fan this morning, I would be buying something to sooth that burning feeling coming from my sphincter.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Losing the game of chicken...

or Beware the Idiots of March...

A little translation of professional athlete speak - I want the team to show it's committed to me. Translation - I want to see more money in a new contract.

From New York Newsday -

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on the night of March 15, the day after Josh McDaniels met with [Jay] Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, that the pair requested a trade. Which the Broncos verified.

"The Denver Broncos confirm that Jay Cutler has requested a trade," a team spokesman told the AP March 16.

Cutler, during what seemed an unambiguous interview, told Mortensen March 15, "Really, it's best for me to move on."

From a Fox report -

"I was surprised they decided to trade me this soon," Cutler said. "I didn't want to get traded. This wasn't me. (The Broncos) had been going back and forth saying things, wanting me to be their quarterback and then they didn't."

"I really didn't want this. I love Denver. I really like my teammates. I didn't want it to get this far."

If Jay Cutler has any credibility in any locker room anywhere ever again, I will be sorely disappointed in his future teammates. So...was he bluffing in order to get a new contract? Did he think that by showing up his new coach and GM that he was showing his Broncos teammates his sterling leadership qualities? Is this guy really this big an idiot?

Some really quick hits...

Good win for the Celtics against a Bobcats team that's beginning to peak at the right time for a playoff run.

Not really surprised that Clay Buchholz was sent to Pawtucket to start the season, but I will be surprised if we don't see him in Fenway again sometime this season.

Tommy Lasorda just doesn't get it. In his defense of nephew Mike Piazza (related to the recent allegations of steroid use), Lasorda said that Piazza busted his ass in the weight room. That was part of his reasoning that his nephew couldn't have been using. I guess he doesn't know that steroids don't magically give one muscles, that you have to spend time in the weight room or you just get fat. He also uses the idea that Piazza is church-going in his defense of his nephew.

Let's get something straight here - just because someone is inherently a good person, or regularly attends church, that doesn't exempt them from doing something bad or stupid. Andy Pettitte, by all accounts, is a very religious guy, and a good guy in the locker room. Nailed for HGH. Then of course history is littered with religious people that just were not good human beings - take Tomás de Torquemada or Hitler (by all accounts, extremely religious). And please don't think I'm comparing Piazza to Hitler or the grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition - I'm only trying to point out that religiousness is no defense and no guarantee of a person being good.

It looks like Donte Stallworth is getting charged by Miami authorities. It sounds like it's what I previously called. This should surprise no one, and should Stallworth work out a deal that avoids jail time, he's still going to miss games due to whatever suspension is handed down for his lapse in judgement.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April Fools

We are on the precipice of a pagan holiday, once a celebration of the start of the spring planting season, All Fool's Day has developed into a day of practical jokes both erudite (see George Plympton's "Curious Case of Sid Finch") and ridiculous (see the idiot that put a whoopee cushion under his boss's ass). In honor of the day, I want to address some of the biggest fools we've had to deal with as sports fans in recent days.

Here five of my favorites. They are in no particular order -

Michael Vick - As noted here yesterday, this fool thinks he's going to come back from his legal issues and garner a contract worth $10 million per season as a quarterback in the NFL. That's the number he used to write his bankruptcy plan, the plan he's using to repay creditors. This is a man that, at best, might get a job as a back-up quarterback, and it's not even assured that his jail time is done given the fact that he may have plundered his entertainment marketing company, MV7's pension plan to pay some of his debts.

Plaxico Burress - This fool derailed the Giants Super Bowl hopes when he shot himself in the leg. In a nightclub. With an unregistered (illegally owned) handgun. Now he's in court, trying to work out a plea deal (adjourned until June 15). I guarantee that any plea will include jail time, and the man will miss at the very least a part of the season due to the impending suspension.

Alex Rodriguez - To put it simply, this is a man that can't get out of his own way. In the last year he has been caught cheating on his wife, cheating the game of baseball, and cheating the fans. He's engaged in interviews that, within days of each other, contradicted his previous interviews. Heap that on top of a guy whose batting average, over the course of his career, is at its lowest in September (.285), and October (.250), (in no other month is his batting average below .299) you have a paper lion who needs to figure out how not to be his own worst enemy.

Pacman Jones - It's hard to know where to start with this bonehead. To put it succinctly, once thought to be one of the up and coming corners when with Tennessee, Jones' legal issues have made him radioactive around the league, but not so much so that Dallas wasn't willing to give him a flyer. After a lackluster season with the Cowboys, combined with his legal issues, Jones has failed to generate any interest - hell he's failed to generate even rumors of interest - in his services, and may have effectively worked his way out of the league.

Al Davis - Once the owner of the NFL's resident bad boys, and once a winning coach in his own right, Davis has become the league's unintentional jester. Changing coaches far more frequently than he changes 1970's jumpsuits, Davis has created instability at the team's most important position (coach), drafted poorly, undermined the authority of his coach, and has invariably blamed his team's failings on the coaching. The only common thread in his team's failures - Al Davis. It doesn't take a genius to figure this one out.

Celebrate the fools, it's their time.