Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Freakin' Ray-Holes!

It was great.

I'm in my car on early Monday afternoon, listening to Michael Holley do a solo broadcast of the Dale and Holley show, live from Fenway Park. Mike goes to take a call from a guy named John, but has to cut him off when Tedy Bruschi called in to do his scheduled interview. Michael asks John to hold, which he does, and a good 6-8 minutes later, when Tedy is finished, he gets his turn. And to the dismay of programming directors everywhere, but to the absolute delight to yours truly, he gets his rant going, with this classic gem...

"With all due respect to you and your station's management, this is a baseball town. It's the ALCS. Nobody cares about that 3-2 team that plays down the road."

From there he went on to discuss Beckett's performance and comment on some of Francona's decisions, but for me, the point had already been made. The caller, no matter how unstable, had answered the question that I've been asking for the past three weeks. People in New England like the Patriots because they win, not because they like football. These people are baseball fans, through thick and thin. And you know what, they actually seem to be more passionate about the team when they aren't even winning...

At least, they used to be...

American League Championship Series
When I started making plans for my blog on Monday morning, this is not where I thought the Sox would be. Actually, far from it. They had escaped Tampa Bay with a split, they now had home field advantage, and they hadn't even had to throw their new found ace, Jon Lester...

Then comes Monday. The Rays shell Lester, the Sox lose home field, and the pivotal game 4 start lies in the hand of experienced post season veteran, Tim Wakefield. Terry Francona also decides to mix up the lineup in this crucial game 4, hoping to jump start an offense that had only averaged a little under 4 runs in games 1 through 3...

Then comes Tuesday. Wakefield gets rocked, the Sox fall down 3-1, and all at once, the world seems to be coming to an end. Just as in game 3, game 4 saw the Rays run out to a big lead, silence Fenway Park, and prove for the 3rd time in 4 nights that they are indeed the better team in this series. The Boston offense remained silent as well, and it's that fact which has me worried that any attempt at a 3 game winning streak may very well be an exercise in futility...

But we'll trek on, won't we? As Red Sox fans, we've seen this hole overcome, just last year. And at the risk of seeming to take the easy way out, the only thing I can do is look forward to the next game, game 5. I have to think, "If Dice K can get a win, then we still have Beckett and Lester" AND "The Rays are still too young and inexperienced, they might still fold up under pressure of a clinching game"...

As a fan, that's all you have is hope. As a realist, I look to facts and trends, but to do that now would be a disservice to my team. So, with the Sox down 3-1 in the ALCS, let me leave you with this. They've done it before. They've down it before, and it's gonna be one Hell of a ride if they pull it off again...

So getcha popcorn ready, pray for the best, and keep your eye out. If neither the Sox, nor the Pats are reigning supreme, what on earth is Pink Hat Nation gonna do with itself?...

Ahhh, that's right. I forgot the Celtics were now taking applications to their bandwagon. What a bunch of spoiled brats those Boston fans are, huh?...

Oh, and if you haven't read this article by Ken Rosenthal yet, I suggest you take a look. Oh, and if the timing of the article and the topic seem really odd to you, then that just means you're a normal person. So don't sweat it...

I'll have my complete commentary on it next week. Gotta let it simmer for a bit...

National League Championship Series
TBS and FOX have got it all wrong. What I love about October, is watching softball slobs like Matt Stairs make 162 games virtually irrelevant with one burly swing of his Paul Bunyan sized bat. And I'm being completely honest, no sarcasm. I was asked recently which league I liked better, AL or NL. The question was posed mostly around whether or not I like the designated hitter, and as I've always done in the past, I quickly picked the National League. The style of the game lends it to more strategic, managerial decisions, and opens it up more so than the AL, for bench guys like Stairs to be post season heroes...

It's not that American League managers don't make roster moves during a game, it's just that in the NL they do it more often, and seem to do it with more purpose. A guy like Stairs is oddly enough placed on the roster specifically for instances like the one he faced on Monday night. He's there to provide a big, left handed, pinch hit bat off the bench. And when he launched that 2-run bomb in the 8th inning of game 4 on Monday, it was less that he has just getting a clutch hit, and more that he was simply sliding the final piece into an almost completed puzzle. That's the beauty of the NL, and that's the beauty of October. Some teams, like the Angels and Cubs, couldn't handle October, while a team like the Phillies are thriving because of the quirky little pieces that make them complete. Quirky pieces like Matt Stairs. A guy that once held out on a Winter League contract until the owner agreed to fly him Burger King to the Dominican once a week for the length of his stay...

NL baseball is a chess match, where as in the AL they're playing with checkers. And in the playoffs, in the pressure of October, it's the game of Kings that reigns supreme for me. It's just a shame, that after 162 games, and 2 playoff series, the NL is then forced to play with a DH. Kinda ruins it...

Patriots Update
Last Week: New England Patriots 10 San Diego Chargers 30

Overall: 3-2, 2nd place in AFC East

That, my friends, is what we call a clinic. You name the aspect of the game, and the Chargers were better at it. It's true from the coach on down. More importantly, it was the continued inconsistency, and the diminished performance of two key groups that was me more concerned than ever about this team's long term possibilities...

Simply put, it's the offensive and defensive lines...

Last year, with the group getting accolades, and the numbers seeming to justify the praise week after week, I still sat here and said I never felt great about the offensive line. Perhaps that was just me being a naive idiot, but I'm unwilling to accept that's the case this year as well. Matt Cassel, despite all his short comings, cannot be blamed for the fact that as of today he is on paced to be sacked a "David Carr like" 60+ times this season. Yeah, 60. How can Cassell be expected to do anything at all when he's constantly running for his life back there? I know people complain that he's holding onto the ball too much, and think that could be inflating that stat, but please. Be logical. If you're QB is getting sacked 4+ times a game, then it's obviously a combination of things. The first of which, is that your offensive line is allowing him to fall under too much pressure...

And they aren't much better in the running game either. Patriot backs may be averaging a rather respectable 3.8 yards a carry this year, but in my eyes it's not due in large part to the up front blocking. If you look at the numbers, more elusive and more experienced runners Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan have had all the success this year. And not that I somehow think their experience is more important than the play of the o-line, but their running style and the situations they get the ball just seem to be more beneficial. To the point, if you take Jordan and Faulk out of the equation, and the per carry average dips all the way down to 3.2. Not too good considering Faulk is just a 3rd down back, and Jordan has been on the shelf the pas few weeks with a calf injury...

They say run blocking is easier, too. So if that's the case, then these are really ominous sings for the remainder of the season...

Then there's the D-line. For years we've been told that the Pats have the best players possible to play the down lineman positions in the 3-4 scheme, but now I'm not so sure. We were always told that despite their lack of sacks and pressures, guys like Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green were ideal fits because they could occupy blockers and free up the second wave of defenders to make the plays. So, logic states that if those guys are doin' their job, then guys like Adalius Thomas, Mike Vrabel and the Patriots linebackers should be able to do their job and bring the pressure, right? Well, I could show you stats to tell you they aren't bringing any pressure, but I'll assume you have two eyes and have seen it for yourself.

It's simple. Good teams start from the inside out. So Matt Cassel or no Matt Cassel, this team is gonna struggle when it keeps losing all the battles at the point of attack...

And I don't know. Maybe Tom Brady was so good that he was able to overcome and cover up all these deficiencies, but I just don't see it. Even with Tom Terrific calling the shots, this would not have been the 13-14 win team that many of us thought it would be when the season began...

It's now turned into a week for week struggle. So for now, it's just on to next week...

Tackle Box
There were a lot of exciting finishes this week in the NFL, but with no time to recap all that delicious action, here are a few notes...

-Bizarre week in Big D. First, they lost to the Cardinals, which would be odd enough on it's own had they not won the game on a blocked punt return for a TD. Second, they go out and acquire Detroit WR Roy Williams in the same week where Tony Romo heads to the bench for a month with a broken pinkie. And third, Pacman gets suspended 4 games stemming from a lavatory scuffle with his own bodyguard...

As for Pacman, well that's just what he does. But the news surrounding the Cowboy offense just has me scratchin' my head. To me, adding the explosive Row Williams to a team that already boasts weapons like TO, Jason Witten, Marion Barber and Felix Jones, is like adding a bag of camp fire marshmallows to a bowl of freaking Lucky Charms. I mean, can Jerry Jones and crew really think their biggest issue is not having enough outlets for Tony Romo? Please, Jerry. Either fire Wade Phillips, or stop scratching your head worrying why team isn't winning. At this point, your just insulting everyone else's intelligence...

Hear this, though. With Brad Johnson at the helm, this offense and this team will thrive. Johnson will rely heavily on the running game, keep it simple, and get the right people the ball at the right time. It won't be as flashy as Romo, but I'll be shocked if it's not more effective, at least in the short term. They're getting too cute down there in Big D, and it's possible Tony goin' down is the reality check they need to get their season back on track...

-I hope you were listening, because the Colts announced their presence with authority this week. When Marvin Harrison is getting pub for catching TD passes instead of allegedly shooting peeps outside of his bar in Philly, well it's bad news for the rest of the NFL. If they managed to start the season 3-2 despite the myriad of injuries they've suffered, then I'd hate to see this squad when they're clickin' on all cylinders at full strength...

...oh wait, I did. It's called like the last 5 years. And I wouldn't think too much of the Joseph Addai injury. As great as he is, he's one of the least important pieces of this offense when it's workin' right. Just like the Pats, and just like with any good team, it will all start with the o-line. And now that they, along with Peyton and Marvin all seem to be rounding into form together, it's gonna make it all the more tougher for opposing defenses...

-Word on the street, is that Cleveland's Kellen Winslow was in the hospital this week with an enlarged package. Now I don't know if he got blasted in it, or what happened, but I gotta say it's mighty discouraging. I mean, I can't have people on my fantasy team walking around with enlarged scrotums! That can't possibly be any good for karma...

News and Notes

Dead. At 19 years old. While playing hockey. And due at least in part to negligence by a Russian EMT crew. If there's a worse way to go, I've yet to discover it. Makes it look like Eight Belles got off easy...

..and yes, I know just how wrong all of that was...

If I were my good buddy Frosco right now, my insides would be churning and I'd be fighting the urge to uncontrollably dry heave and body spasm until I would just end up flopping around on the ground like a dying fish. And it wouldn't be because I was so short. Or even because I was currently living in an apartment with no interior doors. No, I would be sick to my stomach because the wheels have been set in motion. With his dad set to take the big dirt nap in Tallahassee, and Tommy Bowden now free of his duties as the head coach of Clemson, it's now only a matter of time before the second generation Bowden kids take over as caretakers for Seminole Nation. I know offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, has been installed as the hier apparent, but if you think that Terry and Tommy Bowden are gonna go quietly into the night then you my friend are sadly mistaken. I'm not sure how it's gonna happen yet. Whether it be a death bed request or a contract buyout stipulation. I just know it's goin' down. And go ahead, say I'm crazy. Just keep in mind that I was the first one to tell you this when you're watching the Bowden's turn FSU upside down, and you start making comparisons between Terry + Tommy, and Erik and Lyle Menendez...

It's gonna be great, Frosco. And for your sake, I'd just like to apologize in advance for being so spot on with my prediction...

Now it's time to do a little housecleaning, otherwise known as recapping my picks from last weekend. I'm still defying odds, kickin' ass and takin' names. If you bet on football, and you still haven't utilized my services, well then my friend the short bus beeps for thee. Get with the program...

My Picks
Last Week: 9-5-0 (Top Picks: 2-5-0)

Overall: 49-35-2 (.581)

Top Picks: 19-13-1 (.591)

There are some weeks where my Top Picks make me look like a superstar, and then there are weeks like this. In a normal year, I would have picked those 7 games, the one on Monday night, and gone 3-1-0. But, seeing as everyone kept prodding me to just go ahead and do the whole slate, I managed to tack on 6 extra wins to help pad my resume. So thank you...and you should be thanking me. And your welcome....and I'll assume you just said the same and we'll just keep makin' sweet, sweet cakes together...

...and "cakes" = money, for those still not in the know.

Although donations in the form of actual pastry are also encouraged...

NCAA Picks
Last Week: 8-7-1

Overall: 72-47-3 (.602)

What can I say? I told you Clemson sucked, didn't I?...

Fantasy Update
Last Week: Mr. Monday Night 87 WHO'S YOUR DJ? 63

Overall: 5-1-0, 1st in standings + 1st in overall points

Next week vs BoroBall8 (3-3-0)

Well at least for the first week, I was able to avoid the predictable, Monday Night come from ahead loss, and walk away with yet another solid win. Now I find myself in the enviable position of being in first in both the points and the standings. And that's right where I wanna be, baby. Either I run away with this thing, or I have a great story to tell here if I do happen so suffer a catastrophic fall from grace. It's a real win-win...

In closing, I'd like to reflect upon the fine time I had this past weekend celebrating my buddy Ryan's birthday at the CBS Scene @ Patriot Place. For those that haven't been, it's a upscale sports bar on meth, very much akin to one of the many ESPN Zones that are scattered across the country. As my buddy Neal D and I were able to diagnose, it's basically like going to a screening of the movie Minority Report while at the same time being trapped inside the Matrix. It's just TVs everywhere. And where there isn't a TV, there's a bar. Perfect!

Highlights from the outing included sightings of Patriots President Jonathan Kraft, Aerosmith's Tom Hamilton, and my good buddy, the curator of The Hall at Patriot Place and former THE SCORE afternoon drive host, Bryan Morry. Sure Neal D and I will go straight to Hell for the remarks we made about Tom Hamilton when we though it was Bradley Whitford, but it was cool to see Bryan, and nice to watch some huge TVs...

..and it was really cool when Neal almost ran his brother Scottie over with his car later on in the parking lot. Ahhhh, good times...

And that's it for now. Check back Firday for all my picks, and enjoy the rest of your week. You grimey, bastids...


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