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.