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Friday, September 30, 2011

Your 2011 Boston Red Sox Report Card

Well it's time to put the 2011 Boston Red Sox to bed. I've let my apathy towards the team wear off the last few days and now I need to get one last thing off my chest before we head into the long off-season: the final report card.

I'm only including guys that ended the season with the Red Sox and had a significant amount of at bats (hitters) or appearances (pitchers) so at least I could form some sort of opinion about them. Lars Anderson might be the next Albert Pujols (haha) but at least at this point, we have no idea. I'll give each player a letter grade and write a brief overview of their season with stats and my own two cents.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (103 games, 358 ABs, 52 runs, 84 hits, 23 doubles, 16 home runs, 56 RBIs, .235 BA/.288 OBP/.450 SLG)
Salty went from horrible in the beginning, solid for most of the summer and then towards the end of the season-namely September-he went off a cliff again. He showed enough to earn the starting spot next spring barring a big move.

Jason Varitek (68 games, 222 ABs, 32 runs, 49 hits, 11 home runs, 36 RBIs, .221 BA/.300 OBP/.423 SLG)
Nobody wants a 39-year old backup catcher but that's what Boston was stuck with this season. Varitek still has some value in terms of helping out the pitching staff but it's probably best to move on from him next season. Thanks for everything Jason!

Ryan Lavarnway (17 games, 39 ABs, 5 runs, 9 hits, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs, .231 BA/.302 OBP/.436 SLG)
The rookie from Yale opened many eyes this season, leading all Red Sox minor leaguers in home runs. Even more impressive, he hit two homers in the penultimate game that Boston had to win (they did). He's the backup heading into next spring until further notice.

First basemen
Adrian Gonzalez (159 games, 630 ABs, 108 runs, 213 hits, 45 doubles, 27 home runs, 117 RBIs, .338 BA/.410 OBP/.548 SLG)
As we knew all along but found out even more on Wednesday after the final meltdown, Gonzo is not a leader by any means. However, as one of baseball's best hitters he can get away with it. Work on the PR angle and drop the God's will references please. If we're being critical, he could have done more in September when Boston (7-20) was in pieces but he didn't.

Second basemen
Dustin Pedroia (159 games, 635 ABs, 102 runs, 195 hits, 37 doubles, 21 home runs, 91 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, .307 BA/.387 OBP/.474 SLG)
What is there not to love about Pedroia? I mean really. He's everything you could ever want in a baseball player: heart, skill, leader, swagger and energy. Pedroia is one of the few guys on this team that is completely exempt from the choke artists label.

Marco Scutaro (113 games, 395 ABs, 59 runs, 118 hits, 26 doubles, 7 home runs, 54 RBIs, .299 BA/.358 OBP/.423 SLG)
Scutaro earned a ton of respect for how he played through nagging injuries this season and still produced. He actually carried the team, along with Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia in September when everyone else was done. He deserves to come back next season as the revolving door at shortstop takes another year off.

Jed Lowrie (88 games, 309 ABs, 40 runs, 78 hits, 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 36 RBIs, .252 BA/.303 OBP/.382 SLG)
It's time to pull the plug on the Lowrie experiment. He'd be a decent backup infielder if he wasn't the most fragile person this side of J.D. Drew. You can't count on a guy like this.

Third basemen
Kevin Youkilis (120 games, 431 ABs, 68 runs, 111 hits, 32 doubles, 17 home runs, 80 RBIs, .258 BA/.373 OBP/.459 SLG)
Between an assortment of injuries and below career-averages in most categories, it was a rough season for Youk. Don't be shocked if he's trade bait this off-season. His style of play and the fact that he gets hit by so many pitches makes him susceptible to more injuries than most players.

Mike Aviles (38 games, 101 ABs, 17 runs, 32 hits, 6 doubles, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs, .317 BA/.340 OBP/.436 SLG)
This is how bad it was in September: Aviles was one of the better hitters on the team. For real though, he's a valuable utilityman and I hope he's back. He has maybe the worst swing in MLB but he makes it work well enough.

Left fielders
Carl Crawford (130 games, 506 ABs, 65 runs, 129 hits, 29 doubles, 7 triples, 11 home runs, 56 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, .255 BA/.289 OBP/.405 SLG)
Oh my, what a forgettable inaugural season in Boston for Crawford. It's hard to picture him making less of an impact while playing in so many games. He couldn't do anything right and as the season went along, he appeared to lose all the confidence he built up his entire life. Next season and beyond has to be better since frankly, how much worse could it get?

Darnell McDonald (79 games, 157 ABs, 26 runs, 37 hits, 6 doubles, 6 home runs, 24 RBIs, .236 BA/.303 OBP/.401 SLG)
The Red Sox caught lightning in a bottle last season with McDonald, this season he regressed back to what he's been for most of his career. He's mediocre, even as a backup outfielder and they'd be best served to say farewell to Boston's most tattooed player.

Center fielder
Jacoby Ellsbury (158 games, 660 ABs, 119 runs, 212 hits, 46 doubles, 5 triples, 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 39 stolen bases, .321 BA/.376 OBP/.552 SLG)
I'd be lying if I said I ever dreamed that Ellsbury would have a season resembling the one he turned in during 2011. I'm clearly bias but it would be a shame if he doesn't win the AL MVP. To appreciate his greatness, you had to watch him every day. Boston's first ever 30-30 guy was electric at the plate and he also deserves a Gold Glove.

Right fielders
J.D. Drew (81 games, 248 ABs, 23 runs, 55 hits, 4 home runs, 22 RBIs, .212 BA/.315 OBP/.302 SLG)
No question, the best part of having this season end early is the fact that it means that Drew's reign of terror in Boston is mercifully over. One of the worst free agent signings by GM Theo Epstein (which is saying something), Drew couldn't have mailed it in any more this season but who cares, he's gone!

Josh Reddick (87 games, 254 ABs, 41 runs, 71 hits, 18 doubles, 7 home runs, 28 RBIs, .280 BA/.327 OBP/.457 SLG)
There was a stretch in the middle of the season when Reddick was awesome, just completely playing over his head. Predictably, he came back to Earth in a big way and was benched at the end of the season as Drew magically stopped by for a few days.

Designated Hitter
David Ortiz (146 games, 525 ABs, 84 runs, 162 hits, 40 doubles, 29 home runs, 96 RBIs, .309 BA/.398 OBP/.554 SLG)
Big Papi proved that he still has something left in the tank and he deserves to be brought back next season. He went ice cold in September but he's still a valuable member of this team, it would be a shame to see him go anywhere else before his career ends.

Starting pitchers
Jon Lester (31 games, 15-9, 19 quality starts, 191.2 IP, 182 strikeouts, 1.26 WHIP, 3.47 ERA)
It was an up and down season for Boston's ace and truthfully, it needs to be better. He faded badly in September so we'll see if he was playing with an injury. With more consistency, he can be one of the top pitchers in the AL and top lefties in the game.

Josh Beckett (30 games, 13-7, 20 quality starts, 193 IP, 175 strikeouts, 1.03 WHIP, 2.89 ERA)
These numbers don't tell the full story as Beckett was head of the chokers in September. Time and again, he couldn't give his team the start they desperately needed. Would it kill him to go through a full season (over 200 IP) without some very minor injury that sidelines him? The Texas toughguy is a diva that will never change for better or worse.

John Lackey (28 games, 12-12, 9 quality starts, 160 IP, 108 strikeouts, 1.62 WHIP, 6.41 ERA)
The most unlikable Red Sox since I've been paying attention, Theo needs to do everything possible to get rid of this useless bozo. A mess on and off the field, Lackey has the worst attitude and he backs it up with awful stuff.

Erik Bedard (1-2 in 8 starts, 2 quality starts, 1.55 WHIP, 4.03 ERA)
There's a reason I wasn't the least bit excited when the Red Sox obtained this piece of garbage at the trade deadline. I hope to never see him play another game for Boston, he is terrible.

Tim Wakefield (23 games, 7-8, 8 quality starts, 154.2 IP, 93 strikeouts, 1.36 WHIP, 5.12 ERA)
I don't want to sound like a jerk. We all love Wake but you can't let him take the franchise hostage while he chases a record (most Red Sox wins) that only he seems to care about. Getting to 200 wins this season took away from this team's momentum and they don't need more distractions like that next season. Thanks for the memories Wake.

Clay Buchholz (14 starts, 6-3, 6 quality starts, 82.2 IP, 60 strikeouts, 1.29 WHIP, 3.48 ERA)
The great unknown for this team was what a healthy Buchholz would have meant to them. Truly he was the X factor since when healthy, he's super talented and he had just come into his own last season. He should bounce back in a big way next season.

Relief pitchers
Alfredo Aceves (55 games, 10-2, 2 saves, 11 holds, 114.0 IP, 80 strikeouts, 1.11 WHIP, 2.61 ERA)
I will go to my grave maintaining that Aceves was the Red Sox' best pitcher in 2011. I've never seen a guy that's so versatile with such a rubber arm (he pitched in the last four games of the season!). He deserves to be paid, he couldn't have done any more this season for this team, a true winner.

Jonathan Papelbon (63 games, 4-1, 31 saves, 64.1 IP, 87 strikeouts, 0.93 WHIP, 2.94 ERA)
Don't let the last moment of the season fool you, Pap had a wonderful 2011. Some have stated it was his best season for the Red Sox which I think is a slight exaggeration but this man earned the huge pay day he'll get this winter (hopefully from Boston). The best part about the new Pap was that he cut down on the stupid antics and also stood up in September and took blame for losses (a very rare trait on this team of 25 individuals).

Daniel Bard (70 games, 2-9, 1 save, 34 holds, 73 IP, 74 strikeouts, 0.96 WHIP, 3.33 ERA).
One of baseball's best setup men proved in 2011 that's he's not ready for prime time (aka closing). Nobody fell apart worse than Bard in September, it was nuts. He needs more seasoning before his role is changed. Moreover, please don't convert him to a starter. He's a top-notch eighth inning guy when he's right.

Scott Atchison (17 games, 30.1 IP, 1.22 WHIP, 3.26 ERA)
My friend said Atchison looks like a math teacher and I can't disagree. However, he has some value on the mound too and I hope he sticks with the team next season and they don't constantly shuttle him back and forth to Pawtucket. Perfect long relief guy.

Franklin Morales (36 games, 1-1, 8 holds, 32.1 IP, 31 strikeouts, 1.27 WHIP, 3.62 ERA).
Nothing special by any means but worth a longer look in spring training next season and another year with the team. We all know how tough it is to find good lefties, especially out of the bullpen.

Dan Wheeler (47 games, 2-2, 4 holds, 49.1 IP, 39 strikeouts, 1.11 WHIP, 4.38 ERA).
Very uneven season for Wheeler, he might not have much left in his arm. Just when he started to get on a roll he was done with a mysterious injury, never to return.

Matt Albers (56 games, 4-4, 10 holds, 64.2 IP, 68 strikeouts, 1.44 WHIP, 4.73 ERA)
The surprise of the first half had a miserable second half and by the end, Terry Francona basically avoided him at all cost in a close game. Still, he should be back next season and maybe less work early in the year will prevent him from burning out so abruptly.

Andrew Miller (17 games, 12 starts, 6-3, 3 starts, 65 IP, 50 strikeouts, 1.82 WHIP, 5.54 ERA).
The Andrew Miller experience followed his career path: glimpses of promise followed by much inconsistency. Does he return? I don't know, either way it probably doesn't matter.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to dress up my resume in hopes of becoming Boston's next manager. Thanks for reading this season about the Red Sox and enjoy the MLB playoffs!

Patriots-Raiders Injury Report Update

The New England Patriots (2-1) flew out to Oakland tonight ahead of Sunday afternoon's game against the Raiders (2-1).

On every Friday of the NFL regular season, teams release their first injury report for the upcoming game. The Pats are always playing Jedi mind tricks with the opponent by putting a million of their guys on it. So without further ado, here's this week.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) have all already been ruled out for New England.

Cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (chest), Leigh Bodden (groin), Ras-I Dowling (hip), safety Patrick Chung (hand), defensive lineman Shaun Ellis (knee), linebacker Gary Guyton (hamstring), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (back), wide receiver Taylor Price (hamstring) and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (calf) are all questionable for the Pats.

Safety Josh Barrett and linebacker Dane Fletcher are probable with thumb injuries.

For the host Raiders, cornerback Chris Johnson and wide receiver Louis Murphy are out. Linebacker Ricky Brown (who was in camp with the Pats), wide receiver Jacoby Ford, safety Michael Huff, safety Michael Mitchell, fullback Marcel Reece and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy are all questionable.

Oakland safety Jerome Boyd, quarterback Jason Campbell, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, safety Matt Giordano, linebacker Quentin Groves, running back Darren McFadden and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke are all probable.

Hernandez and Vollmer being out just like last week is bad news for the Patriots. Likewise, if their already thin secondary is missing a few cornerbacks it could be a long day although Campbell and the Raiders don't really like to throw it/don't have great receiving options.

Chung and Haynesworth are the questionable guys for New England that could potentially have the biggest impact if they suit up.

Huff is one of the more underrated safeties in the league so Oakland will no doubt hope that he's in the game while Reece is a good blocker that springs holes for McFadden-currently the NFL's leading rusher.

Stay tuned for more updates tomorrow night if we hear them. Otherwise, it's a mad scramble on Sunday afternoon as you set your Fantasy Football lineups and try to figure out who's available (not that any of these players affect that) on your teams.

Steven Kampfer Injures His Knee, MRI Results Await Today

Sad news out of the Bruins-Senators preseason game last night at TD Garden. Defenseman Steven Kampfer suffered a knee injury in the third period and didn't return. I was listening on the radio to the game (while I did a Fantasy NHL draft, haha I'm so cool!) but Dave Goucher and Bob Beers (the excellent B's radio guys) made it sound like it was rather serious.

Kampfer is getting an MRI today but it sounds like at least for now, Matt Bartkowski has won the battle for the seventh spot. It's obviously not the way anyone wants it to happen, through an injury, but that's how it goes in such a physically demanding sport.

From James Murphy's story on
“He suffered a knee injury. Left knee and that’s basically all we have right now for specific details,” Julien said. "He’s going to have an MRI tomorrow so we’ll find out a little bit more on his condition.”

Will the injury to Kampfer decide the race for the seventh defenseman slot?

“I don’t know if it settles it,” Julien said. “We’ll find out tomorrow how severe it is and is he going to be two months or is he only going to be a few weeks? And if he is, then it can still be a battle going on there.”

Julien said he thought both Bartkowski and Kampfer played well Thursday night.

“They’re both pretty good,” Julien said. “Actually, I thought Kampfer was having a real good night skating and moving the puck and [Bartkowski] is still there. There’s some things that I think he has to continue to work on and he’s got good size. He’s a solid skater, but every once in a while he gets caught with maybe not moving the puck quick enough and those are just little things that he has to continue to work on.

"But having said that I like both their games.”

With any luck, it's nothing too serious and Kampfer can get back out there soon to continue his development as one of the Bruins' better puck movers and offensive-minded defenseman.

UPDATE: CSNE reports he sprained his knee in the collision and he's expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Looks like Bartkowski will be with the big club for at least the first few weeks of the 2011-12 season.

Remember The Good Old Days When You Could Hit Quarterbacks In The NFL?

Not to sound like a meathead, your grandfather or most of the clueless commentators on CBS, FOX, ESPN, NFL Network who spout the same thing every week, but do you remember when the NFL actually allowed quarterbacks to get hit?

This may seem silly to say as a New England Patriots fan because I will admit that quarterback Tom Brady has benefitted from preferential treatment since he became a star, however the amount of fines and penalties that occur every week for borderline hits and plays is ridiculous.

The latest Patriot to get fined was linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who is short $15,000 after his helmet grazed Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday in their game. At the time, I thought the penalty was a bit harsh and now with the fine, I have to say for the millionth time that the NFL is being a little too reactionary.

Brutal launching hits like the ones Brandon Meriweather always tries are despicable and they don't have a place in the NFL or football in general. Players, coaches and fans no doubt would almost unanimously want those out of the game. Yet the force field that seems to exist around quarterbacks and the distinct disadvantage the defensive players are at in the NFL (hello defensive backs) is why as Mike Felger says, "it's turned into Arena Football."

Defenses are no longer dominant and as a result, a few stops and or turnovers is what amounts to a good defensive game these days. Seeing a million touchdowns in a game (akin to an endless loop of Sportscenter) gets old fast. Bring back the violence in football, just leave the reckless shots out of it.

Big Mistake Making Terry Francona The Fall Guy For The 2011 Red Sox' Epic Failure

If the reports and rumors are true and Terry Francona has managed his last game for the Boston Red Sox, the front office (owners Tom Werner & John Henry along with president Larry Lucchino) and GM Theo Epstein are making a big mistake.

Perhaps, we'll never know the full story. Francona's health in his eight years in Boston has gotten progressively worse but I find it hard to believe he's in that bad shape since he's only 52 and most importantly, he's said to be headed to Chicago to manage the White Sox (who just traded Ozzie Guillen to the Florida Marlins).

Francona is the most successful manager in Red Sox history, capturing two World Series championships (2004, 2007) and making the playoffs in five of his eight seasons at the helm. The fact that the team missed the playoffs the last two seasons meant that someone had to be the fall guy and unfortunately you can't get rid of a bunch of loser players like John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett that are under contract.

Tito had options for $4.25 million each in 2012 and 2013 but it looks like those will be lost in the shuffle. This year's disaster of a team was completely dysfunctional and even a player's manager like Francona couldn't get this bunch of ill-fitting pieces to come together or hold on to a nine-game lead in the AL Wild Card in September (the biggest September collapse in MLB history).

Sports are naturally a results based industry and none more so than the job of manager of the Boston Red Sox. It's one of the most scrutinized in sports and when things don't go well, ownership will normally panic and make a reactionary move (which in this case is the wrong one).

On Francona's watch (734-531, .580 winning percentage), the team won at least 86 games in every season including 95+ in five of the seasons. In the playoffs, Boston was 28-17 (.622 winning percentage) including the two titles and a run to Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008. Ironically, that's the last time the Red Sox won a playoff game (in 2008) since they were swept in 2009 by the Angels.

If this is really the end, we should all be thankful for everything that Francona has done for the Red Sox. He immediately changed the history for a team that was a complete joke nationally and worldwide. He likely took years off his life dealing with all the intense media coverage and day-to-day hysteria of the job and at the root of it all, he was a decent man.

Props to you Tito, good luck to the next guy they try to bring in here to change this mess in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Delonte West Continues To Be The Most Interesting Man In The NBA

My love for Boston Celtics guard Delonte West has been well-chronicled. There are very few pro athletes these days that I'd want to meet, let alone have a beer with (or in this case probably a 40 of Steel Reserve) but West is such a unique person that I think a chance encounter with him is something you would remember for the rest of your life.

His latest adventure is that he was hired by Regency Furniture Showrooms, a furniture chain in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. West posted pictures on his Twitter account from his first day of work.

On his application, West checked "Yes" when asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime. For the explanation, West simply answered with, "Misunderstanding."

West was arrested on Sept. 17, 2009, after police found guns in a guitar case on his three-wheeled motorcycle. West pleaded guilty to traffic and weapons charges in July, 2010.

Regency, which sells "living room, dining room, kitchen, office and bedroom furniture, along with mattress and accessories," according to its official website, was the latest employment target for West during the lockout.

In August, West tweeted that he was applying for a job at Home Depot. West also told TrueHoop's Adam Reisinger in August he applied to Sam's Club.

"I actually might have work with Sam's (Club), BJ's, selling knives," West said. "That's pretty cool too. I get a microphone and everything."

You have to give him credit; rather than risk injury playing basketball overseas, he's taken a blue-collar job in the states to support his family and continue to earn a paycheck during the uncertain times of the NBA Lockout. Do you think there's one other player in the NBA that would even contemplate doing that for even one day? Answer: probably not.

Was Adrian Gonzalez Kidding Me Last Night?

“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward. God didn’t have it in the cards for us… For me, I’m a firm believer in God and God has a plan and it wasn’t in God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.”

– Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez

"It's all about injuries. If any team doesn't make the playoffs when they're supposed to, it's because of injuries." - Gonzalez

That's the kind of leadership I want on my team. Just taking full responsibility and holding himself accountable for the biggest regular season collapse in major league history. Wait, he didn't do that? Weird.

If you missed the NESN postgame last night, you missed one of the most asinine, whiney, out of touch statements made in a long, long time. Throughout the Red Sox' September swoon, there have been relentless questions about the team's makeup. Their mental toughness was always in question and aside from Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Alfredo Aceves, everyone else on the team acted like the playoffs were a foregone conclusion. They were lauded as the best team ever before they even played a game and approached the season believing their own hype.

Throughout the year, the team and manager Terry Francona made excuses for everything, namely during interleague play. After last night's comments by Gonzalez, we now have a clearer picture of the mindset of some of the people in that clubhouse. While Francona, Papelbon and GM Theo Epstein took questions like men, the new face of the franchise complained about injuries and God's plan.

Granted, the Sox were missing Clay Buchholz for much of the season but I'm pretty sure they still had the best team in baseball without their third starter. Oh yeah and Kevin Youkilis missed a bunch of time but I think there was a certain team from New York that missed the highest paid third basemen in the game for even more games. Injuries happen but to say "it's all injuries" and "any time a team misses the playoffs, it's because of injuries" is just a dumb thing to say but not as dumb as saying that losing Daisuke cost them 10 wins.

Then when asked if he could point to any reason for the collapse, he said that it wasn't God's plan for the Sox to make the playoffs. I didn't know that the big man upstairs was a Rays fan. Kinda reminds me of when Kurt Warner praised God for helping the Rams win the Super Bowl. I get praying for your teammates but when a reporter asks you to pinpoint a reason why your team just suffered a Titanic-sized collapse, don't tell me it's because God likes Joe Maddon more. Such a disgraceful cop out. Step up, be a leader and take responsibility.

Adrian Gonzalez isn't a captain but he gets paid like one and to hear a guy with his stature make excuses is pathetic. This guy is going to be a member of the Red Sox for the next six years and if this is how a superstar like him responds to adversity, it's no wonder that the most of the team gave up too.

I just hope God wants the Bruins to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.

So I Guess The Season Is Truly Over For The 2011 Boston Red Sox, Good Riddance!

No matter how long any of us live, I guarantee that we'll never see a final day of an MLB regular season like the one we just witnessed tonight.

With both Wild Card spots up for grabs and four games going on simultaneously, it was baseball porn for a sport that desperately needs more moments like that. At the end of it all, the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals-two teams that came back from historical deficits-captured the Wild Cards while the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox likewise suffered catastrophic collapses.

Baltimore (69-93) had a walk-off win at Camden Yards, 4-3 on Robert Andino's single which mercifully ended Boston's season. Moments later at the Trop, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer in the 12th for an 8-7 Rays win over the Yankees, ensuring that there would be no one-game playoff on Thursday vs. the Red Sox.

Good lord, where to begin with this train wreck of a month that was capped off by tonight? The Yankees led the Rays 7-0 at one point while the Red Sox were ahead 3-2 on the Orioles before a rain delay of one hour and 25 minutes during the seventh inning.

Bottom line, the two teams that most deserved to make the playoffs made it. New York will host Detroit and Texas hosts Tampa Bay beginning on Friday. In the NL, Philly hosts St. Louis and Arizona travels to Milwaukee on Saturday.

This was a game that the Red Sox (90-72) shouldn't have lost but given the way September unfolded-tying the worst Sept. mark in franchise history-the end result was entirely predictable for anybody that was paying attention.

Jon Lester wasn't great but he gave them a decent enough start on three days rest. He went six innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts.

In possibly his final game with the Red Sox, closer Jonathan Papelbon (4-1) blew the save in crazy fashion. He was down to the last strike with the bases empty before Chris Davis doubled, Nolan Reimold tied it with a ground-rule double and then Andino hit a sinking liner which most people not named Carl Crawford might have had a chance on. Don't ask me how a guy who won a Gold Glove last season could become this much of a liability in one year.

Alfredo Aceves had pitched a scoreless 1-2-3 seventh (his fourth consecutive day of work) while ultra-shaky setup guy Daniel Bard had a clean eighth to get it to best closer in franchise history.

To blame Papelbon is short-sighted and dumb. This was a teamwide failure on so many levels; it should have never gotten to this point. As GM Theo Epstein pointed out after the game, if they had only won two more games (9 instead of 7 out of 27) in September, they'd be in the playoffs.

Firing Terry Francona is probably the most likely option since who would ever take on Crawford, John Lackey, etc. at this point? However, while Francona's approach of not calling out players didn't help, ultimately it's the players that get the job done or not. Rumors of Theo going to the Cubs make sense and I wouldn't blame him for wanting a new challenge at this point in his career. Winning World Series championships in 2004 and 2007 changed everything for the Red Sox, the team and the fanbase just doesn't have the same passion and I don't that they ever will again.

The only positional players that showed up tonight for Boston were Dustin Pedroia (3 hits) and Marco Scutaro (2 hits). Pedroia had an RBI single in the 3rd (1-0) and solo homer in the fifth (3-2 Red Sox; 21st of the season). Scutaro scored on a balk in the fourth (2-2) and the pair also combined on a sick double play to get out of trouble in the sixth.

As every Red Sox fan thought during the slide, if only we had a couple more guys with the heart and desire of Pedroia. His energy and enthusiasm for the game can only go so far though. He's a winner and hopefully he plays for Boston his entire career.

Scutaro is a free agent and he figures to move on from here but he is also guilt-free as him and Jacoby Ellsbury (who should be AL MVP) basically tried to will this team offensively in September when every other bat flat-lined and any form of pitching was a disaster.

J.J. Hardy got the O's on the board with a two-run shot in the third which put Baltimore ahead 2-1.

Starter Alfredo Simon was pulled after 4.1 innings (3 earned runs, 6 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts) but Troy Patton (2.1 innings), Willie Eyre (1 out), Pedro Strop (1 inning) and Jim Johnson (6-5; 1 inning) combined to close the door on Boston's ill-fated season.

This loss should serve as a painful reminder to both the team and fans that getting to the playoffs and winning a World Series isn't a birthright by any means (in case we forgot). The Red Sox haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and this marks the second straight season that they've missed the playoffs (something they hadn't done in consecutive years since 2001). Hell, they only had one more win this season than last year's joke of a campaign. And please don't start with the injury excuse, in baseball everyone has a ton of injuries after the grueling 162-game regular season.

Let's remember that winning the offseason like the Miami Heat in the NBA or Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL doesn't mean anything. The results are all that matters and right now, this team has dissolved into one that lacks character and substance. We can only hope that this bitter end gets things turned back into a winning direction moving forward.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Boston Bruins Make Roster Cuts, Start Preparing for 2010-11 Regular Season

The Boston Bruins announced seven roster cuts yesterday, trimming their deep roster from 34 players to 27, with four or five more cuts to come before they open up their 2011-12 season next Thursday at TD Garden against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Bruins entered training camp this year with essentially the same roster as last year's team, save the retirement of Mark Recchi and the loss of both Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. The B's prospects knew that there would be a lot of competition for a limited amount of roster spots. After a handful of preseason games, the Bruins had to make some moves.

On defense, they cut David Warsofsky, Colby Cohen and Zach McKelvie. The Bruins will most likely skate seven defensemen on opening night. Steve Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski are currently battling for that last spot. Bartowski actually made the team last season and was present for their trip to Prague. Kampfer stepped up last year and played in 46 games, showing great poise with the puck before missing the playoffs with an injury (apropos of nothing, he's the only real active Tweeter on the Bruins). Either Kampfer or Bartkowski will join Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Adam MacQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg on the blue line.

The Bruins also cut a trio of forwards yesterday, including former first-round draft pick Zach Hamill, Trent Whitfield and Jamie Arniel. All three will be sent down to Providence. Max Suave and Lane MacDermid remain on the roster for now while Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Caron and veteran Chris Clark (a former captain of the Washington Capitals) will battle for a roster spot.

The Bruins will have a good chance to take a look at the remaining players in the next few days, as the B's will take on the Ottawa Senators tomorrow night (the only preseason game on NESN) and the Islanders on Saturday night in the preseason finale.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ryan Lavarnway Saves The Red Sox' Season (For Real)

Where were you when Ryan Lavarnway blasted two home runs and drove in four RBIs to help the Boston Red Sox (90-71) hang on against the Baltimore Orioles (68-93), 8-7 tonight at Camden Yards?

The Yale product (Theo Epstein must be so proud) was called into duty as Boston's top two catchers-Jarrod Saltalamacchia (collarbone) and Jason Varitek (knee)-weren't able to play due to nagging injuries sustained the last few days.

Ironically, the rookie's bat made all the difference in a game that meant everything as the Red Sox had to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays who defeated the New York Yankees by a score of 5-3 and briefly led the AL Wild Card for about 30 minutes.

The regular season finale tomorrow night will be decided with Jon Lester and Alfredo Simon on the mound. In his career, Lester is unbeaten (14-0 in 17 starts) against Baltimore but he will be pitching on three days rest which he has only done once.

It wasn't pretty since of course Erik Bedard (3.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 5 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts) failed to get out of the fourth inning but when you get to Game No. 161, all that counts is the final result.

I've run out of superlatives for Alfredo Aceves (10-2), he's like the overachieving kid in high school that everybody despises. Pitching for the third night in a row (really), Aceves and his rubberized right arm went 3.2 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits with a strikeout.

Daniel Bard (1 inning, 2 earned runs, 3 hits) was up to his September tricks and Jonathan Papelbon (1 inning, 1 earned run, 2 hits) had to survive a 28-pitch ninth but he did it, getting Adam Jones (2 hits) to ground out to end it with the tying run on second.

Orioles youngster Zach Britton (11-11) is going to be good one day, well assuming he gets out of AL East hell but he couldn't get it done in the biggest start of his nascent career. He lasted 4.1 innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

Vladimir Guerrero (3 hits), who has found the Fountain of Youth (which probably exists wink wink in the Dominican Republic), put the O's up 1-0 in the first with an RBI double.

As always this special season for him, Jacoby Ellsbury put Boston on his back with a two-run blast in the third (his 32nd of the season).

Lavarnway made it 5-1 with his first career homer, a three-run shot in the fourth.

Bedard being Bedard he immediately yielded a two-run homer to Matt Wieters (3 RBIs, 2 hits, 2 runs) in the fourth to cut it to 5-3 Red Sox.

Marco Scutaro's seventh homer of the season, a two-run poke that just got over the wall, put it back to a four-run advantage (7-3) in the sixth.

Jones had a solo shot in the sixth but Lavarnway matched him with his second of the night in the eighth to give Boston its third four-run lead of the game.

Chris Davis (2 hits) had an RBI single in the eighth and Nolan Reimold's RBI triple made it 8-6 Boston. J.J. Hardy scored in the ninth on Wieters' ground out but Papelbon shut the door for his most nerve-wracking but vital save.

New York figures to lay down to Tampa Bay one more time so Boston will need to put together its first win streak in a month if they want the season to continue. A one-game playoff for the AL Wild Card would take place on Thursday afternoon at the Trop. Ironically, the NL is in the same position with the Braves and Cardinals tied going into tomorrow's action.

Can Lester continue his dominance against Baltimore or will he get shelled yet again in September? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Hello Gerard Warren My Old Friend

In a move that I predicted when he was cut before the season-opener, defensive tackle Gerard Warren is back with the New England Patriots.

It was such a foregone conclusion that apparently he already had some of his stuff remaining in a locker at Gillette Stadium, talk about job security.

Fellow lineman Landon Cohen was released earlier in the day so naturally reports began to surface almost immediately that Warren was back. He was probably just chilling at Patriots Place, watching movies on Bob Kraft's dime and crushing mad food.

Albert Haynesworth and Mike Wright missed Sunday's loss in Buffalo so who knows what their status will be this week as the team travels to Oakland on Sunday? Regardless, the Pats need more bulk up front to maybe tighten up the front four and prevent running backs (like Darren McFadden and Michael Bush) from gashing them for routinely huge gains.

The other news of the day is that New England will wear their Pat Patriot red throwback uniforms a week from Sunday (for the only time this season) at home against the New York Jets. Love those jerseys, I'm surprised that they're only wheeling them out only once.

Bill Belichick and Co. get back to the practice field tomorrow as they prepare for the Raiders (2-1). Injury updates and other roster moves will be reported as they happen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just Calmly Admit To Yourself That It's Over And Life Will Be So Much Easier

There are two games left in the 2011 MLB regular season with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays tied for the AL Wild Card.

Those are the facts but I'm here to tell you that's it over for the Red Sox (89-71) after tonight's 6-3 loss at Camden Yards to the Baltimore Orioles (68-92) which frittered away the last game of Boston's lead. Tampa Bay beat the Yankees 5-2.

I've never found myself basically rooting against one of the four Boston pro sports teams but that's what is has come to with this miserable operation. I want their season to be over so we can just get away from this team and hopefully make some big changes in the offseason (dumping John Lackey, Carl Crawford, etc.). They're mostly unlikable, they have no pulse and now, they're about to pull off one of the great September choke jobs in MLB history.

For the second time in less than a week, Josh Beckett (13-7) was not up to the task of beating the O's. The fraudulent Texas toughguy went six innings but he allowed six earned runs on seven hits with four walks and five strikeouts.

Boston staked Beckett to a 2-1 lead in the fourth, following Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI double in the second and Jed Lowrie's solo homer in the fourth (his sixth of the season).

Chris Davis (2 hits, 2 RBIs) tied it with an RBI single in the fifth and put his team ahead for good with an RBI double in the sixth. The biggest blow was an inside-the-park three-run homer by Robert Andino. For a team that has found new and different ways to lose since the calendar changed to September, this was a unique one even for them.

Jacoby Ellsbury had the ball in his glove in center field but it popped out as he ran basically full speed into the wall. That's the play all the old-timers will be talking about for years to come, that is assuming they are still watching this bunch of losers.

Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, walk) had an RBI single in the ninth as the Red Sox tried to rally but Adrian Gonzalez flew out for the second out and Lowrie struck out to end it when he represented the tying run with two runners on base.

David Ortiz and J.D. Drew each had two meaningless hits in the latest disastrous setback.

Matt Wieters tied it in the second for the Orioles with a solo homer. Tommy Hunter outdueled Beckett once again, proving that Beckett's big-game reputation doesn't really fit anymore. Hunter went five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

Troy Patton (2-1) got five outs for the win and four other Baltimore relievers followed him.

I would say this was a soul-crushing defeat for the Red Sox but that would be incorrectly assuming this team had one to begin with. They're an overpaid, underachieving bunch that should rightfully be taken apart this winter. Good riddance.

On the bright side, Erik Bedard faces Zach Britton tomorrow night as Boston tries to stave off all the negative momentum you could ever possibly imagine one team facing in the regular season.

Who knows who will be catching Bedard since Jason Varitek was a late scratch last night with a bruised knee (he was hit by a pitch on Sunday in New York) and Jarrod Saltalmacchia had to leave in the eighth inning after taking a foul ball off his collarbone.

Keep in mind that no MLB team has ever blown a nine-game lead (what Boston had) in September but then again, this squad hasn't won two games in a row since a day-night doubleheader vs. Oakland on August 27.

Turnovers, Poor Defense Give Buffalo First Win Vs. Pats Since 2003

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Buffalo Bills won their first game against the Patriots since 2003 yesterday, erasing a 21-0 deficit and starting the season 3-0.

Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 369 yards and two Touchdowns, leading the furious comeback that was probably the biggest Bills win in years. Buffalo took advantage of four interceptions of Tom Brady and were able to make big plays down the stretch. Brady had some great numbers as usual, but his turnovers were costly and set the stage for the Bills to pull off the upset.

The Patriots jumped out to a 21-point lead in the middle of the second quarter after two Rob Gronkowski touchdowns and one Welker score. After Stevie Johnson caught a TD pass from Fitzpatrick, the Bills got the ball back and got into field goal position. The Bills capitalized on a tip drill interception, after a Brady swing pass bounced off Danny Woodhead's hands and into Bryan Scott's hands. Rian Lindell delivered, booming a 42-yard field goal, cutting the Patriots' lead to 21-10 going into halftime.

The Patriots forced a Buffalo 3-and-out but Brady's next throw, a pass intended for Chad Ochocinco, was picked off by Leodis Mckelvin (great name). Brady spotted Ochocinco in man coverage and forced the ball into a tight area. Ochocinco seemed like he ran the wrong route, as he was out of position to try and break up the interception.

The Bills had a nice drive down the field, getting into the Patriots' red zone when it looked like their drive was going to stall. On 3rd-and-Goal, the Patriots were caught napping, as tight end Scott Chandler ran a 3-yard hitch route and was wide open when Fitzpatrick found him. The defensive breakdown was a running theme throughout the day but this was the most egregious.

Gostkowki added another field goal on the next possession extending the Patriots' lead to 24-17. The two teams traded possessions until a deep Fitzpatrick pass was picked off by Barrett. A dumb pass interference penalty by Sergio Brown negated the turnover and put the ball on the Patriots' 1-yard line. Fred Jackson scored on a 1-yard TD plunge to tie the game at 24.

Brady was intercepted again on the next drive, as Bills CB Drayton Florence took Brady's fourth INT 27 yards for the go-ahead score.

The Patriots marched down the field on the next possession and then on 4th-and-6, Brady connected with Wes Welker for his fourth TD pass of the day, knotting the score at 31. The Bills then got the ball back and went 79 yards in three plays, before bleeding the clock so that Lindell could deliver the game-winning kick with no time remaining.

There is more than enough blame to go around in this one and hopefully the Patriots coaching staff and personnel can learn from this comeback loss. The Patriots will take on Oakland next week and have to clean up their act before playing the Jets the following week.

Game Notes

*Wes Welker is a machine. With Aaron Hernandez out, most people thought that Gronkowski would benefit the most or Ochocinco. While Gronk did have a great game, Welker was nothing short of dominant, racking up 217 yards (breaking a franchise record) on 16 receptions (tying Troy Brown's mark). His first catch in the game gave him sole possession of the Patriots franchise record for consecutive games with a reception. He has now caught a pass in 64 straight games, beating Ben Coates' old record of 63. If anyone is above criticism in regards to yesterday's result, it's Welker.

*I know it's only been three games now but Devin McCourty's lackluster play is looking more and more like a trend. After allowing bigger recievers like Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson to have big games, McCourty was abused by Johnson time and again yesterday, including his first TD catch in the corner of the end zone. The worst part about it is that he's not getting burned on any routes. He's there. It just seems like he is having a hard time turning his head around toward the ball and making a play on it. No one seems to be afraid to throw at him. I don't know if it's because of the new secondary around him or what but if that's the way its going to be from McCourty all year, this defense is going to be in big trouble.

*Speaking of the DBs, holy shit they were playing like them yesterday. Leigh Bidden got absolutely toasted on the first play of the game and didn't have a good afternoon. Brown had that inexcusable pass interference penalty on the Barrett interception that should've ended the game. He may not have interfered with the intended reciever, but that was just a dumb penalty to take.

*Has anyone ever seen a DB take worse angles than Barrett? I'm serious. He has looked awful in all three games, especially when it comes to making open-field tackles. He looks like that one kid in Pop Warner who runs alongside the play and then when the whistle blows, he's on top of the pile. I think he's going for the NFL record for half tackles set by Junior Seau and Ray Lewis. I mean, did you see him and Brown trying to wrap up Jackson near the end of the game? Unreal. It almost makes me miss the Big Bang Clock. Let's all hope that Patrick Chung comes back sooner than later.

*Did you know that in the NFL you can actually hand the ball off to a running back and try to gain yards on the ground? It seems to be news to the Patriots, who kept Danny Woodhead on the sidelines for stretches of time, and only used BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Stevan Ridley in obvious running downs. It seemed like every drive started with Brady in the shotgun, virtually eliminating the chance that they would run the ball. When defensive linemen are swatting down passes left and right, maybe it's because they are prepared and ready for the pass and nothing else. The Pats did the majority of their running late in the game when they had to score quicker shi h doesn't make sense to me. Not nurturing the running game is going to end up killing this team later on in the season.

*Ochocinco continues to dissapoint me and I'm starting to wonder how long his leash is heading into Week 4. He had two catches but also played a role in one of Brady's interceptions. McKelvin started on Ocho's outside shoulder but Chad looked like he broke off from his route a bit, which led McKelvin to undercut the route and make the play. Brady was pissed on the sideline and rightfully so. Chad also dropped an easy TD catch late in the game but was bailed out by Welker's fourth down TD catch. Not the best way to endear yourselves to Pats fans.

*As usual, there were a few sketchy penalties to say the least. Kyle Love got flagged for unnecessary roughness when he barely touched Fitzpatrick but was outdone by the worst call I think I've ever seen. Welker caught a ball and turned upfield and was flattened by Byrd. He was flagged for "hitting a defenseless reciever" even though he had control of the ball and was running upfield. Just a bullshit call on the Bills right there.

*Injuries suck. But at the same time I think that the Pats would still have these problems on defense even with Ras-I Dowling, Chung and Albert Haynesworth on the field. All in all, the Pats defense is dead last in the league in yards allowed. Is Bill Belichick still a defensive genius? We shall see.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Red Sox Are Still Alive (For One More Day At Least) Thanks To Jacoby Ellsbury

Being unemployed and having a Sunday Night Football matchup of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts (with no Peyton Manning) will drive a man to do many things: drink, do drugs and the most abusive behavior of all-watching a 14-inning Red Sox-Yankees game.

Thankfully for my sanity, Boston (89-70) made it all worthwhile (kind of) with a thrilling 7-4 win over New York (97-62) in Yankee Stadium.

Mr. AL MVP Jacoby Ellsbury (sounds good, doesn't it?) made sure that the Rays wouldn't end the day tied with the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card as he crushed a three-run bomb off Yankees fossil reliever Scott Proctor (0-2).

Felix Doubront got a 1-2-3 14th for his first save of the season. It's not hyperbole to say that this was the Red Sox' most important win of 2011 since if they had lost (like they did earlier in Game 1 of the day-night doubleheader), they were cooked (tied with Tampa Bay).

John Lackey didn't exactly spin a gem but by keeping Boston in the game, he succeeded in his most meaningful start for the Red Sox. He allowed three runs in the first but Big Hoss (hat tip to El Pres) held on for six innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

Alfredo Aceves (1.2 innings), Daniel Bard (1 inning, 3 walks), Jonathan Papelbon (2.1 innings), Franklin Morales (1-1; 2 innings) and Doubront teamed up for an incredible performance by the Red Sox bullpen which has been running on empty for weeks. Most impressive were Aceves and Papelbon who didn't allow any hits and Morales for holding on during a rocky 44-pitch, 2 walks outing.

Would you believe that J.D. Drew was in the lineup after a three month plus vacation (last game July 19)? Yup, when the team is collapsing you need to bring him in to deliver the goods. He actually got Boston's first run in the fifth with an RBI single.

Adrian Gonzalez's ground out in the sixth and Marco Scutaro's RBI double in the seventh tied it before Jason Varitek put the Red Sox ahead with an RBI single later in the seventh.

Chris Dickerson tied it with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

The win tonight more than made up for the forgettable 6-2 loss this afternoon and I don't just say that since I saw probably three total minutes of it. Hey, I had to watch the Patriots choke away a big lead to the Bills!

Tim Wakefield (7-8) lost that one just like we all knew he would. A.J. Burnett (11-11), Lackey's tattooed cousin from another uncle, was the latest recipient of Boston's turd sandwich against shitty starting pitchers.

From my perspective, the only notable aspect of Game 1 is that Ellsbury hit two homers (his 29th and 30th of the season). Coincidentally, the second one gave him 100 RBIs on the season. He's the first 30-30 player in Red Sox history.

Here we go, the 2011 regular season ends at Camden Yards. The pitching matchups are Josh Beckett vs. Tommy Hunter tomorrow night (one the O's won last week), Erik Bedard vs. Zach Britton on Tuesday and Jon Lester vs. Alfredo Simon on Wednesday. The Yankees go to Tropicana Field to face the Rays in their last pretend series.

If they can't beat the Orioles enough to hang on, there will be no excuses. Baltimore won three of four at Fenway last week. Hopefully this win propels Boston to the finish line and where they go from there, we'll worry about that later.

Stop The Presses: The Buffalo Bills Might Actually Be Good in 2011

When you've beaten a divisional rival 15 straight times, you are basically working on borrowed time in the NFL. No sport has the same level of parity (which is what makes it the best professional league) so in that sense, today's 34-31 win by the Buffalo Bills (3-0) over the New England Patriots (2-1) at Ralph Wilson Stadium shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

However, New England was up 21-0 early in the second quarter and seemed headed to a laugher in Upstate New York. However, just like a week earlier against Oakland (down 21-3), Buffalo rallied to get it within 21-10 at halftime and then they proceeded to outscore the Pats 24-10 in the second half.

Led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's (my favorite Harvard alum) big game (27 of 40, 369 passing yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs), the host Bills vaulted to one of the most important victories in franchise history over the past forgettable decade.

It also put Buffalo atop the AFC East, ahead of New England and the New York Jets (2-1), who lost later in the day in Oakland. The Miami Dolphins (0-3) are already on the clock for Stanford QB Andrew Luck as far as I'm concerned.

It's easy to make fun of the Bills and their fans for celebrating their September Super Bowl like the Jets always do but in many ways, that fan base more than almost any other in the NFL deserves success. They're so loyal and year after year, they've had to watch a terrible onfield product.

No Patriots game would be complete without the usual video game numbers from quarterback Tom Brady (30 of 45, 387 yards, 4 TDs) but a wrench was thrown in the standard plot as TB12 was picked off four times. Those interceptions, coupled with the lack of desire to run the ball and the defense's inability to get off the field equaled a win that could turn around things for Buffalo.

No Aaron Hernandez but Wes Welker (career-high 16 catches and 217 yards, 2 TDs) and Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) were still unstoppable. The problem was that without Hernandez, the Patriots lacked a viable third option. Deion Branch was held without a catch and Chad Ochocinco (2 catches, 28 yards) failed to capitalize on way more playing time. He dropped an easy touchdown that didn't come back to bite the Patriots but it would have been a big boost for his fragile confidence.

The Bills lack the marquee names of the Patriots but Steve Johnson (8 catches, 94 yards, TD), Donald Jones (5 catches, 101 yards), David Nelson (6 catches, 84 yards) and running back Fred Jackson (87 yards receiving; 74 yards rushing, 1 TD) are combining to give Fitzpatrick and Buffalo one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this season.

Rookie running back Stevan Ridley (7 carries, 44 yards; 1 catch, 8 yards) showed some nice burst in his most extensive workday in his pro infancy. He's deserving of some more touches starting next week I say. I love them both but I think at this point, opponents know what to expect from Danny Woodhead (21 yards rushing; 20 yards receiving) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 yards rushing).

Kyle Arrington was the only Patriots defensive player worthy of a mention. He had two interceptions, both in the first half. Fellow cornerback Devin McCourty had 11 tackles (8 solos) but he looks shakier by the week as teams appear to be going right at him all the time now.

New England received the opening kickoff and they proceeded to reel off maybe their most impressive drive of the contest. In nine plays covering 84 yards (5:15 elapsed), Brady found Welker with a short pass that Welker turned into a 14-yard touchdown. Stephen Gostkowski's PAT made it 7-0 and two plays into Buffalo's first drive, the Pats got the ball back when Arrington made his first pick.

Brady used the short field and the omnipresent no-huddle attack to quickly cash in. Brady hit Gronkowski (an Amherst, NY native) for a 1-yard TD pass after a six play, 30-yard drive. Gostskowski's second PAT made it 14-0.

Fitzpatrick and the Bills offense started to click on their next possession but once again, Arrington ended it with an interception (this time in New England's end of the field). The Pats had a cushy 14-0 lead after one misleading quarter.

The teams punted back and forth twice before Brady and Co. put it all together once more. A 26-yard touchdown to Gronk and Gostkowski kick put the Patriots ahead 21-0. For most teams, that would be more than enough but when you don't want to/can't run the ball to bleed the clock and your defense can never get stops in crunch time, no lead is truly safe against a worthy foe.

Fitzpatrick and Johnson got the Bills on the board with an 11-yard touchdown strike. Rian Lindell's PAT cut it to 21-7.

New England looked poised to grab another touchdown (or at least field goal) before halftime but Brady's pass went off Woodhead's hands and it was intercepted by Bryan Scott at the Buffalo 11-yard line. Credit to the Bills as they went 66 yards in 10 plays (1:02 elapsed) to set up Lindell for a 42-yard kick. That gave Buffalo a boost, down a manageable 21-10 at halftime with the second half kickoff coming to them.

It's hard to remember it but New England's beleagured defense actually forced a 3-and-out on Buffalo's first possession of the second half. The problem was that Brady threw his second interception (Leodis McKelvin) on the following play. It was intended for Ochocinco but Brady tried to fit it into too tight of a space for a guy that still doesn't seem comfortable in the system.

After a nice 21-yard return, the Bills used the short field to their advantage as Fitzpatrick found Scott Chandler for a 3-yard touchdown pass after a 7-play, 37-yard drive.

New England's next drive stalled in the red zone and they settled for a 23-yard Gostkowski field goal and a 24-17 lead.

Buffalo punted twice, sandwiched around a New England punt, before George Wilson recorded the Bills' third interception of Brady. A 48-yard pass to Jones and a costly penalty to Sergio Brown (31 yards) placed the ball at the Patriots' 1-yard line and Jackson punched it in for the tying score with help from Lindell's PAT.

For the second time, Brady was intercepted on the first play of a drive (which is killer) but even worse, Drayton Florence returned it for a 27-yard touchdown and the go-ahead score at 31-24.

The crisis was averted as New England went on a nice long drive (15 plays, 74 yards, 6:57) with Welker getting the money catch (6-yard TD on 4th-and-6). Gostkowski's kick tied it at 31. All the Pats needed was a stop and it would get the ball back or worse case, it would go to overtime.

Three long plays later (29-yard catch by Jones, 12-yard catch by Jackson and 39-yard catch by Jackson) and the Bills had the ball down at the 1. At first, it was ruled a TD but it was just semantics since no kicker will ever miss a kick that short. Buffalo did its best to get some dumb penalties and move it back but Lindell split the uprights from 28 yards out with no time left.

Well this was painful to recap and relieve for the second time today. New England travels to Oakland next Sunday afternoon (4:15 p.m.) for a game that promises to be much harder than originally expected. The Raiders (2-1) actually have their act together and they could beat the Patriots if their defense is the same sieve it was today. Brady can't carry them forever, this team needs balance offensively and it needs the defense to show some progress from week to week.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Is Beyond Embarassing

Just when you thought things couldn't go any worse for the Boston Red Sox, they fell to 5-17 in September following a 9-1 blowout loss this afternoon at Yankee Stadium. That clinched homefield throughout the American League playoffs for the Bronx Bombers.

Jon Lester (15-9) has to be hurt since he made his third straight awful start in a row. 2.2 innings, eight earned runs, eight hits, one walk and three strikeouts is not exactly what Boston (88-69) needed from its ace.

The Rays and Angels both won tonight, meaning that Tampa Bay is only 1.5 games behind the Red Sox while Los Angeles is 2.5 games back in the AL Wild Card. Yeah, this probably won't end well.

If you need any further proof that something is up with Lester, Freddy Garcia (12-8) looked like Roy Halladay in comparison. I guess that's also an indictment on Boston's hit or miss lineup that they were blanked by Garcia for six innings. He allowed six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

The wheels fell off for Lester and Boston in the second inning as New York (96-61) put up six runs. Jesus Montero started it with an RBI single, Russell Martin added a two-run single and Derek Jeter crushed a three-run opposite field shot in Williamsport East.

No Red Sox shitshow these days would be complete without mental errors and mistakes all of their own doing. Today Marco Scutaro couldn't throw to third (for a force) since Mike Aviles didn't break to the base. Also, former Gold Glover Carl Crawford dove but dropped a ball he should have had. Both plays came in the second inning; I'm not naive enough to say they were the difference in the game but damn, they didn't help.

Montero had a two-run double in the third and a solo homer in the sixth for a depressing 9-0 advantage.

Boston got on the board in the seventh with an RBI double from Crawford.

Tomorrow is a day-night doubleheader that when it's all said and done, could be the ugliest day of this suddenly going nowhere season. Tim Wakefield and A.J. Burnett duel in Game 1 at 1:05 p.m. with John Lackey and Ivan Nova wrapping it up at 6:30 p.m.

Thank God the Patriots and the rest of the NFL (minus the Cowboys and Redskins) are in action tomorrow cause I can't take much more of this. It's all over, the Red Sox are done. If Lester is hurt, they have absolutely no hope of doing anything. Game over.

The New England Patriots Never Sleep, But You Already Knew That

I know they're out there but if you're a hardcore New England Patriots fan, I don't know how ignore Twitter and blogs since it's the only way to keep up with all the moving parts during the week between games.

I can imagine there are many casual fans (aka pink hats) that just turn on Patriots games on Sundays and Mondays and say, "who is that?" Well that's one of the reasons why we're here, to help you keep track of the constant transactions for our favorite NFL team.

On the heels of tight end Dan Gronkowski's release yesterday and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian's promotion to the active roster from the practice squad, comes the news today: safety Ross Ventrone has been promoted from the practice squad and linebacker A.J. Edds (who was released on Friday) has been signed to the practice squad.

So what to make of all these minor moves? The Patriots are comfortable playing the Bills tomorrow with only one tight end (Rob Gronkowski) while Aaron Hernandez is expected to sit with a knee injury. It's time for Chad Ochocinco to step up since he figures to see many more passes coming his way against Buffalo.

Tarpinian and Ventrone are thought to be further help/depth on special teams one of the few spots where Buffalo usually excels. In addition, Ventrone could see some bigger playing time if Patrick Chung isn't ready to go (he supposedly had surgery on his thumb this week).

Finally, punter Zoltan Mesko is expected to play tomorrow so New England didn't bring in any other punters to take his place. Safety James Ihedigbo fell into Mesko's knee last week against San Diego during a punt. You can all breath a sigh of relief, looks like the Zoltan is healthy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Notes On Bill Belichick: A Football Life

Last night was the conclusion of Bill Belichick: A Football Life on the NFL Network and just like last week, it gave an unprecedented look into the mind of the best NFL coach of our generation. Part 2 picked up right after the Patriots' 59-0 beatdown of the Titans and showed Belichick and the Patriots at their most vulnerable.

The first scene shows Randy Moss and Belichick in the coach's office and Moss asks Belichick about throwing a Halloween party for the team. "You don't wanna go do you?" Moss asks. Maybe he was serious, maybe he wasn't but after the conversation, Belichick had probably the best quote ever. Moss was clearly excited about Halloween, and Belichick responded with "Candy and costumes, what's better than that?"

The next scene showed Belichick and his cougar girlfriend Linda Holliday showing up to the roller rink, Belichick is dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow on rollerblades and is photographed next to Randy Moss and Vince Wilfork who were dressed as Spongebob and Fred Flintstone respectively.

Up next was a pregame speech that Belichick gave to the team before the Miami game. I know Belichick doesn't engage in a war of words with other teams in public, but he does like to use certain motivational techniques to pump up his players. In this case, he played a clip of a bombastic Tony Sparano boasting about the "division still going through us". Belichick played this clip to pump his team up and it clearly worked, as the Patriots beat the Dolphins two days later.

The 4th-and-2 portion of the documentary was what I was anticipating the most. They did a great job showing the 4th-and-1 from their own 20 against the Falcons earlier in the year. Belichick justified his choice to go for it in the Falcons game, saying, "people call me a lot of things, but one thing I'm not is afraid. I'm not afraid to make that call, provided you guys give me the confidence to make the call."

If there was anything to take away from the 4th-and-2 call, it was that this is something that the Patriots were prepared to do. Was it out of the ordinary? Sure. Still as he said to his team after the game, he was just trying to do whatever it took to win the game. He also called accusations that he didn't believe in his defense "bullshit". It was one of the only times in the last decade that the majority of fans and analysts all second-guessed Belichick.

The Patriots then traveled to New Orleans for that Monday Night Showdown where they got absolutely hammered. Belichick went on the field at the Superdome and reenacted the David Patten TD catch versus the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. He reminisced about the game-winning field goal and called Adam Vinatieri that team's best player and he's probably right.

Before the game, Bob Kraft and Belichick were talking about the great memories in the Superdome and it seemed like they have a different type of relationship than the general public assumed. It looked like your typical employer-employee conversation, filled with plenty of awkward silence.

The game itself was a trainwreck and I remember watching that game and wondering if it was the end of an era for the Patriots. We also saw Belichick questioning his group of players, citing "no mental toughness" and expressing doubt to Brady, wondering whether or not he "can get this team to perform." It was weird to see Belichick doubt his abilities and his team, which may have led to the roster overhaul that is still continuing this season.

After the disappointing loss, Belichick showed the team the classic Hagler-Hearns fight to try to inspire the club to punch back after they've been punched. Unfortunately, this mindset didn't resonate with the 2009 Patriots.

This was very clear in the Jaguars game late in the season. Belichick dubbed this game "a hat and t-shirt game", meaning that they had the chance to clinch the AFC East and therefore earn a hat and t-shirt. The Pats were rolling, up 35-9 when the defense started thumping their chests and dancing around in the field. Shortly thereafter, David Garrard marched down the field in five plays, breaking the shutout. Belichick flipped out on the defense, calling them a "bunch of punks" and ripping into them for celebrating before the game was over. It was the loudest I've ever heard Belichick scream but he had a point.

After the Welker injury in Week 17 against the Texans, it was clearly over for the Patriots and Belichick was clearly pissed at the barrage of questions that reporters were throwing at him in the postgame. Getting ready for the Ravens was no easy task, as the Ravens came in and punched the Patriots in the mouth.

Belichick gave Coach Harbaugh props, saying "if we don't win, I hope it's you." Earlier in the documentary, he praised the Ravens, so you know that respect level is there.

After the season, Belichick said that he "couldn't imagine being away from football," bit also said he couldn't coach forever, reinforcing the fact that his time here is finite.

I wished that they covered the point when Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss and others were late to practice in "Snowgate." This was clearly the point when people questioned the makeup of the Patriots. Belichick was still in control of the team, but the team lacked that certain something that made previous Pats teams so great. Belichick is still trying to weed out the knuckleheads, as we have seen with the release of guys like Brandon Meriweather.

The main thing to take from this documentary is that someday, somehow, the Brady-Belichick era is going to come to a close. We have all been extremely fortunate to see Belichick coach this team for the last decade and A Football Life was the one opportunity to be with him behind the scenes for an entire season.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Orioles Take Three Out Of Four At Fenway

It seems like ages ago but do you remember when the Boston Red Sox looked like the class of the American League this summer? They had moved past their abysmal 2-10 and appeared destined for big things in October.

They still could be in the postseason but this team gives new meaning to the term "limping into the playoffs." Tonight, the Baltimore Orioles (65-90)-one of the worst teams in baseball this season and for the past decade-won 6-4 in Boston's (88-68) regular season home finale at Fenway Park.

The O's won three of four against the Red Sox in a series that meant everything to the home team and nothing to the visitors who have been out of contention since I don't know, June? The same things are being said over and over about this edition of the Red Sox and at this point you have to think they are all valid: they're frontrunners, they have no heart or no pride, they think the playoffs are a given.

Despite all this negativity, Boston is in good shape for the AL Wild Card. They're 2.5 games up on the Tampa Bay Rays (who lost both games today in a day-night doubleheader with the Yankees) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A win here or there in September (5-16) and it would be locked up but hey, did you hear Sweet Caroline tonight? That was awesome.

Not even Josh Beckett (13-6) could shake this team out of its malaise. The Texas wannabe toughguy went 7.1 innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits with a walk and eight strikeouts.

Tommy Hunter kept Baltimore in the game until he had to leave in the seventh with a groin strain. He went 6.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

In a season that has been a huge disappointment from game one, Carl Crawford actually had a great performance. Too bad, nobody will remember it since it came in another unforgivable loss. Crawford was a homer shy of a cycle with two RBIs; Adrian Gonzalez (2 hits) was the only other Red Sox with multiple hits.

It's hard to choose the most pathetic aspect of this series finale (other than the final result): Baltimore rallied from a 4-1 deficit tonight and also, closer Jim Johnson had his third straight 1-2-3 save (9th save of the season) over two days and each took 10 pitches or less.

The greatest softball player in all the land, with apologies to my girl Jennie Finch, Mark Reynolds was the offensive star for the Orioles. He got the scoring started with a solo homer in the second and then a two-run blast in the seventh which tied it at four.

After tripling to lead off the third, Crawford scored on Jason Varitek's ground out. Crawford added a two-run double in the fourth and David Ortiz made it 4-1 with an RBI single in the fifth.

Normally, that would be enough against the O's but no lead is safe right now for Boston. J.J. Hardy (2 hits) cut it to 4-2 in the sixth with an RBI single and then Vlad Guerrero knocked in two with an RBI single off Alfredo Aceves in the eighth.

It wasn't Aceves' fault since he came in with runners on second and third with one out. He's wiggled out of countless situations like that this season but you can't expect that every time out. I would have intentionally walked Vlad to get the force at every base but hey, what do I know?

There are six more games of this misery and probably a few after that (don't expect a long stay in October) but I can't ever remember a Red Sox team in my lifetime that has disintegrated down the stretch like this. It's embarrassing.

After an off-day tomorrow, they've got three in New York (against the AL East champs) then wrap up the regular season with three in Baltimore. Can they get into the playoffs without winning another game? We shall see I guess.

Injuries Are Already Starting To Pile Up For The New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have only played two games so far in the 2011 regular season but injuries are proving to be an issue even this early on. That shouldn't be a shock at all since injuries seem to be way up around the league thanks to the lockout screwing up everyone's offseason schedules.

Longtime center Dan Koppen broke his lower left leg (fibula) in the first game against the Dolphins and defensive tackle Myron Pryor went down in the first half of Sunday's game against the Chargers with a shoulder injury. Today, both players were placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. Dan Connolly slid over to center during the Monday Night game and that's where he started last Sunday vs. San Diego.

Koppen's injury looked serious right when it happened but with the way that New England covers up an injury (fake or real), it took this long to get the official word of what we've long expected.

Pryor's injury isn't as notable since he's more of a substitute on the defensive line but all reports from training camp and the preseason are that he was stepping up (something Ron Brace, Brandon Deadrick, etc. have never done). Vince Wilfork, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Albert Haynesworth are all very talented but they would never be called a young group and that's what Pryor brought to the table: energy and youth.

To fill those two roster spots, the Pats have brought back preseason hero Landon Cohen-a defensive tackle and cornerback Phillip Adams, who played as a rookie last season for San Francisco. With Ras-I Dowling (thigh) and Kyle Arrington (concussion) going down against San Diego, he adds depth to a position that's already lacking it in the first place.

In addition, tight end Aaron Hernandez sprained his knee (MCL) last Sunday and he'll miss either a week or two depending on who you believe. That equates to more touches likely for Chad Ochocinco down the field and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield.

Boston's Starting Lineup For Tonight's Bruins-Senators Exhibition Game

The Bruins' 2011-12 Stanley Cup defense run (damn that sounds good to say) begins tonight in Ottawa at 7:30, as they will skate with the Senators in their first exhibition game.

Here are the line combinations for the Bruins:

Benoit Pouliot-Patrice Bergeron-Jamie Tardif
Jordan Caron-Chris Kelly-Chris Clark
Max Sauve-Tyler Seguin-Jared Knight
Lane MacDermid-Ryan Spooner-Jamie Arniel/Shawn Thornton

Andrew Ference-Colby Cohen
Matt Bartkowski-Adam McQuaid
David Warsofsky-Dougie Hamilton/Steven Kampfer

Tuukka Rask
Anton Khudobin

*It's going to be interesting to see how the guys who played last night in the intersquad scrimmage will bounce back in real game action tonight against NHL competition. I'm looking forward to seeing Jordan Caron play, as I think he has a lot to give to the third line, although he's skating with the second line tonight.

*I will also be monitoring Matt Bartkowski, as I think he can challenge for a seventh defensemen spot on the big club. Word from last night was that he flattened Jared Knight in Providence. Bartkowski is a legit blueliner and I think he can compete with Kampfer and Colby Cohen for a roster spot.

*The game will be carried live on the radio-98.5 FM the Sports Hub-and tape delayed on the NHL Network beginning at midnight tonight.