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Monday, September 30, 2013

Patriots' Solid Road Win Tainted By Wilfork's Injury

Well tonight the Patriots ran into their first legitimate opponent of the 2013 regular season and you have to admit that they passed the initial test with a 30-23 win against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Sunday Night Football. New England (4-0 overall, 2-0 away) would be the first to admit that they should have won much more comfortably (they led 30-13 in the fourth quarter) since the Falcons (1-3 overall, 1-1 home) had a chance to tie it at the end after recovering an onside kick but Matt Ryan's (34 of 54 for 421 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) fourth down pass for Roddy White in the end zone was deflected away by Aqib Talib.

For what it's worth, the last two times the Pats started 4-0 was in 2004 and 2007: both years ended in the Super Bowl (a win and loss respectively). However before we start dreaming of the Super Bowl this season, it's likely that we'll wake up to the sobering reality that Vince Wilfork is out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles (reported by Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young and ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss). It happened in the first quarter on a seemingly innocent play but with such a big body sometimes it's tough to tell the severity of an injury. When he got carted off then never returned, you knew it was bad because he never misses action. The Pats could survive without Wilfork since truth be told he plays a rather outdated position in today's pass-first, second and third NFL but he is unquestionably one of their best players, a captain and leader. Let's hope the early reports are somehow wrong.

Tonight's victory was a throwback to the happier times with the Patriots (the Super Bowl years) when nobodies picked up during the week or languishing on the bench turn in huge plays. Which was your favorite: Matthew Mulligan's (6th team in 6 years) first catch for New England (a 1-yard touchdown), undrafted rookie Joe Vellano replaces Wilfork and has a sack or Michael Buchanan (a 7th round pick) who also recorded a sack? I'm not even including Kenbrell Thompkins (6 catches, 127 yards, 18-yard TD catch) since by now we all know his story and importance to this team. Oh and LeGarrette Blount who nobody thought should make the final roster, had a 47-yard touchdown run. Haha it was that kind of night.

The Falcons proved to be the Texans or Chargers of the NFC: a talented team that plays too conservatively (Houston) or is prone to make the brutal mistake in a big spot (San Diego). In the first half they passed up an easy field goal only to get stuffed on fourth down when it was obvious points would be at a premium in this contest. Talib picked off Ryan for his NFL-leading fourth interception of the season that sent the fraud Atlanta fans home early.

No Steven Jackson meant little in the way of a running game for the Falcons. Tony Gonzalez (12 catches, 149 yards, 2 TDs) looked like the greatest tight end who ever lived but that probably isn't far off from the truth. Julio Jones (6 catches, 108 yards) was the focus of Talib and New England's defense so he only showed up in pseudo-garbage time with a miraculous 49-yard grab.

It is always a good day or night as it were for kickers indoors: Matt Bryant and Stephen Gostkowski each had three field goals with New England's kicker booming a 48-yard and 49-yard kick. Tom Brady (20 of 31 for 316 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 fumble) started off slow with only nine passing attempts in the first half but the Pats adjusted from a power running gameplan to more of a passing attack led by Thompkins and Julian Edelman (7 catches, 118 yards) in the second half except for Blount's long run.

The Pats survived another week without Danny Amendola (anybody seen him by the way?) and Rob Gronkowski. Next Sunday's game (1, CBS) at Cincinnati (2-2) doesn't seem as tough after the Bengals lost 17-6 today in Cleveland to Brian Hoyer and the Browns. Of course the NFL taught us long ago not to make too much out of one week (win or lose). New England is happy to be one of the six remaining unbeaten teams left in the league (5 after Monday Night Football) after a tricky road win against a desperate squad.

UPDATE 10/1: As I predicted, today the Pats resigned cornerback Marquice Cole and safety Kanorris Davis (who was signed off the practice squad on Saturday then released yesterday). I bet Davis is back on the practice squad as soon as tomorrow.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Week 4 Injury Report: Patriots at Falcons

There is still plenty of time left before Sunday Night Football (8:30, NBC) pits the Patriots (3-0) at the Falcons (1-2) but the injury report still came out at the same time as usual this afternoon.

In addition, New England also made a roster move as they somewhat surprisingly released cornerback Marquice Cole who had been dealing with a hamstring injury. I wouldn't be shocked to see him back soon when he's healthy since he sees playing time in nickel and dime packages plus he's on all the special teams.

As for who will or won't play at the Georgia Dome, the three names on all Patriots' fans minds are Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), Danny Amendola (groin) and Sebastian Vollmer (foot). They are all questionable but it sounds like Amendola won't play; Gronk is slowing getting better and Vollmer missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday but returned in a limited capacity today.

The other questionable Patriots are Kyle Arrington (groin), Nate Ebner (ankle), Will Svitek (knee) and Leon Washington (knee). Special teams ace Matthew Slater (wrist) has already been ruled out but you knew that if you read my blog post from last week.

For Atlanta, running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is still out while four other marquee guys are questionable: wide receivers Julio Jones (knee) and Roddy White (ankle) along with former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh).

The annoying part of the late kickoff, besides its conflict with great television shows (Boardwalk Empire, Bar Rescue and Breaking Bad to name a few), we also have to listen to basically another full day of injury speculation regarding Amendola and Gronk. Ugh, I can't wait to have them back on the field so we can stop hearing vague speculation from every NFL reporter with a Twitter account.

UPDATE 9/29: Patriots inactives are Steve Beauharnais, Slater, Amendola, Gronkowski, Jake Bequette, Chris Barker and Washington. Falcons inactives are Samuel, safety Kemal Ishmael, Jackson, linebacker Jamar Chaney, guard Harland Gunn, tackle Ryan Schrader and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Red Sox Spoil Todd Helton's Final Game at Coors Field

It seems apropos that Todd Helton's final game at Coors Field would more closely resemble a softball game, oh and also that his team lost since they were known to do that for many of his days (17 years) in Colorado. Tonight, the Red Sox (96-63 overall, 43-35 away) outslugged the Rockies (72-87 overall, 45-36 home) 15-5 in the series finale. The victory was extra sweet for Boston because this afternoon, the Angels beat the A's 3-1 putting the Red Sox two games up (with three to go) for the best record in the AL.

Helton did his part with a line straight out of a movie: solo homer, RBI double and sac fly. Unfortunately, the rest of his team weren't really on the same page. The Red Sox got most of their runs from extra-base hits: Will Middlebrooks had a grand slam and three-run homer; Shane Victorino hit a three-run homer and Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 4 for 5 with a double, three RBIs and two runs.

A nice footnote for Boston: David Ortiz's two-run double gave him an even 100 RBIs on the season. That's the seventh time he's done it in a Red Sox uniform, trailing only Ted Williams (9) and Jim Rice (8). The big news in this game for the Red Sox is that Jacoby Ellsbury returned after missing 16 games. He batted leadoff and was 1 for 2 with two runs scored before getting replaced in the fourth inning.

Jake Peavy (12-5) struggled mightily but still made it through six innings. This was the final interleague game of the season for Boston, the only other way they'll see an NL team in 2013 is if they reach the World Series. The Red Sox finished with the second best record (14-6) in Interleague play this season so they have no reason to fear anyone from the weaker league.

The Red Sox are coming back this way (relatively speaking) with an off-day tomorrow followed by a three-game series in Baltimore. The Orioles have been eliminated from playoff contention and perhaps after Friday, Boston will have wrapped up the top seed in the American League playoffs. You can't overstate the importance of that well-earned honor. The regular season concludes on Sunday.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thanks To A Cake Schedule, Patriots Are 3-0 For 1st Time Since 2007

Pundits will rightfully poke holes in it but the Patriots (3-0 overall, 2-0 home) don't have to apologize for their 2013 early season schedule, they didn't create it. New England played far from a perfect game but it was their most complete performance of the first three weeks as they shut down the dumpster fire Buccaneers (0-3 overall, 0-2 away) 23-3 this afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

We had heard from afar how much Tampa Bay was struggling but to see it up close was another matter. Formerly promising young quarterback Josh Freeman (19 of 41 for 236 yards, 1 INT, sacked 3 times) has become a headcase incapable of consistently hitting quality receivers like Vincent Jackson (3 catches, 34 yards) or Mike Williams (5 catches, 65 yards). You can't say the Bucs don't have talent since they also employ Doug Martin (88 yards rushing; 20 yards receiving) and Darrelle Revis (5 tackles, 4 assists).

Predictably after they had a few extra days of practice, Patriots rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (3 catches, 41 yards, 2 TDS) and Aaron Dobson (7 catches, 51 yards) looked way more comfortable with Tom Brady (25 of 36 for 225 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) who spread it around to six different players including Julian Edelman (7 catches, 44 yards) and Brandon Bolden (49 yards receiving; 51 yards receiving). Facing the Bills, Jets and Bucs in the first three games allowed the Pats to survive without Danny Amendola (the past two weeks) and Rob Gronkowski. It'll be a different story as the competition really ramps up starting next week.

Thompkins' first two NFL touchdowns were sweet but the story of this victory was New England's defense which held Tampa Bay to 323 total yards including 0 for 4 on fourth downs. Aqib Talib picked up his third interception in the past two games, against his old team no less, while the Patriots recorded three sacks as a team. Jerod Mayo (9 tackles, 5 assists, tackle for loss, quarterback hit) and Chandler Jones (sack, 2 quarterback hits) helped make Freeman's life miserable.

Ironically, the Buccaneers scored the first points on Rian Lindell's 30-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Little did head coach Greg Schiano know that would be their final points of the contest. Midway through the second quarter, Brady found Thompkins for a 16-yard catch and run TD. With 47 seconds left in the first half, Thompkins added a five-yard TD catch as Tampa Bay somehow lost him in the back of the end zone. Who else were they worried about, Zach Sudfeld?

You knew it wasn't the Buccaneers' day when Freeman threw the lazy sideline interception to Talib with 11 seconds left in the second quarter. New England gained eight yards in two plays, setting up Stephen Gostkowski with a 53-yard field goal that he boomed right down the middle as time expired.

You are excused if you fell asleep during the second half since little happened other than a 46-yard field goal by Gostkowski in the third quarter and he wrapped it up with a 31-yard kick in the fourth quarter.

I kind of look at the first three games as the preseason (in this case) while the next five weeks should be way more interesting: New England travels to Atlanta (1-2, 2nd in NFC South) on Sunday night (8:30, NBC). That's followed by a game at Cincinnati, home date with New Orleans then back-to-back divisional games at Jets and home vs. Miami. The Falcons lost 27-23 at Miami this afternoon so they'll be desperate to get a win. They have something these previous three teams definitely lacked: a competent quarterback in Matt Ryan along with numerous weapons like Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White.

On the surface, we couldn't have asked for a better start (record wise) for the Pats but most would argue that we won't know anything about them until they start playing elite teams. Next week is a good beginning point to see what they're really made of in a primetime game on the road against a team that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender after losing a heartbreaker in the NFC Championship game last season.

Criminally Underrated Rob Ninkovich Signs 3-Year Extension With The Patriots

Over the last few seasons, Patriots fans have come to realize how good defensive end Rob Ninkovich has become. Now it's gotten to the point where national TV announcers note this multiple times in every Pats game. For a defense that has lacked playmakers for years, he always seems to be in the right place and most times, he makes the clutch plays that few others do.

Today, one of the leaders of New England's improving defense signed a three-year extension through 2016 that's worth $15 million ($8.5 million guaranteed). He had been playing in the final year of his contract so New England was smart to lock him up early rather than wait until the end of the season where he would surely be the subject of a bidding war between smart teams.

In the first two games this season, Ninkovich has recorded 14 tackles and forced a fumble but that doesn't even really tell you his true value. He's not particularly big or fast, there are no skills that jump off the screen at you but when you watch every Patriots game you quickly recognize that he's almost always in the correct spot which translates to making play after play. In the last two seasons, he started every game and put up a very respectable line of 14.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 132 combined tackles.

As much as any player from the last few seasons, Ninkovich is proof that the Patriots can still find a diamond in the rough when it comes to free agency. Remember, this is a guy that was a fifth-round draft pick by the Saints in 2006 who was only playing long snapper before they cut him. With New England, he's moved his way up from backup and special teamer to one of the unquestioned leaders of the defense.

The Patriots would be a much better team if they had a team full of Ninkovichs: guys that are unselfish, reliable and always do their job.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Red Sox Win Their 1st AL East Crown Since 2007, 7th In Franchise History

Well that didn't take too long. Roughly 24 hours after they clinched a playoff spot, the Red Sox (94-61 overall, 52-27 home) wasted no time dispatching the hapless Blue Jays (70-83 overall, 32-43 away) 6-3 tonight at Fenway Park. Boston clinched its first AL East title in six seasons, the seventh in franchise history.

They remain 2.5 games up on Oakland for the best record in the AL so their hearty celebrations in the clubhouse and back on the field afterwards were well deserved especially after they didn't do anything following Thursday's victory over Baltimore.

There is plenty of work for the Red Sox to do in October in order to accomplish what is well within their grasp: an American League pennant and World Series title. Still, baseball is such an insane grind that it was nice to see them live in the moment for a second and enjoy their excellent regular season. As the last few seasons have shown, AL East (the best division in MLB) titles don't come around that often.

Jon Lester (15-8) set himself up to no question be the No. 1 starter when the playoffs roll around as he put together another stellar outing: seven innings, one earned run, five hits, eight strikeouts and two walks. Junichi Tazawa created a few scary moments when he gave up a two-run homer to Adam Lind in the eighth, cutting Boston's lead to 5-3. No worries, Koji Uehara would just be summoned for a five-out save.

Uehara allowed two hits (which is unheard of for him) and threw 26 pitches but he didn't allow a run and struck out two including Brett Lawrie to end it for his 20th save of the season. More than any other pitcher on the Red Sox, he earned the right to get the biggest out of the season (so far).

Boston's first two runs were gifts as Dustin Pedroia (3 hits, double) scored on a wild pitch in the first and Mike Carp (single) walked with the bases loaded in the second inning. Lawrie got the Jays on the board with an RBI single in the fifth but Boston added three in the seventh on David Ortiz's (run, two walks) RBI single and a two-run single by Carp. How good has Carp been?

With the big league hangovers that they're sure to all have this morning, it's best for the Red Sox that they don't have a game until tomorrow night (7:10, NESN). Clay Buchholz (11-0) faces Mark Buehrle (11-9), who Boston typically owns.

Week 3 Injury Report: Buccaneers at Patriots

It's funny how quickly we fall into familiar routines when it comes to the NFL season. The Patriots (2-0) last played on Thursday (9/12) and maybe because it was such a horrific game that we tried to put it out of our memories but that feels like it was a year ago. Today, the injury report was released for New England's meeting with winless Tampa Bay (0-2) on Sunday (1, FOX) at Gillette Stadium.

Matthew Slater (wrist) has already been declared out for the Pats who as far as I know haven't publically acknowledged his broken wrist which should put him on the shelf for a while. Danny Amendola (groin) is doubtful and you can basically guarantee that he won't play either. There are six Patriots that are questionable: Brandon Bolden (knee), Dan Connolly (finger), Nate Ebner (ankle), Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), Will Svitek (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh). Of that group, I'm pretty sure that Connolly and Washington are the only guys to have played in the first two games.

The Bucs aren't messing around as they've already said three of their players are out: defensive tackle Derek Landri (knee), cornerback Michael Adams (knee) and offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (illness). Four Bucs are questionable: tight end Tom Crabtree (ankle), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hamstring), guard Carl Nicks (foot) and tight end Luke Stocker (hip).

Check back on Sunday prior to kickoff as I'll update these when the inactive list becomes available.

In other Patriots news, the NFL finally came down with their fines from the Jets-Pats game. Vince Wilfork, Alfonzo Dennard and Michael Buchanan were each fined $7875 for unnecessary roughness while Chandler Jones was docked $15,750 for an earlier play where he hit Geno Smith.

UPDATE 9/22: The new inactives for the Pats are Washington, Gronk, Amendola, Steve Beauharnais, Svitek, and Chris Jones. The other inactives for the Bucs include Orlovsky, Adams, defensive end Steven Means and Stocker.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What We've Known For A While Is Official: Red Sox Are Back In Playoffs For 1st Time Since '09

If the last few humbling seasons have taught us anything, it is that you cannot take winning for granted in MLB, even in a big market like Boston with almost unlimited resources. Baseball playoffs are outstanding and they are so rewarding after sitting through a regular season that is way too long and often very boring. Tonight, the Red Sox (93-61 overall, 51-27 home) clinched a playoff spot with a tidy 3-1 win over the Orioles (81-71 overall, 39-38 away).

Boston is back in the postseason for the first time in four years while they try to get their first playoff win since 2008 (seriously). It is the 21st time in franchise history that they've reached the postseason and tomorrow night they have the chance to capture their first AL East title since 2007.

Easy storylines were falling out of the sky as Boston had 93 losses last season and John Lackey (10-12) pitched a complete game, probably his best ever performance for the Red Sox in his season of redemption. The Red Sox were the first AL team to secure their place in October and they did it only a few hours after the Dodgers won the NL West. Can you imagine a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series? How about Red Sox-Indians ALDS or Red Sox-A's ALCS? It is so enjoyable to know that we can bank on a few more weeks (at least) of quality baseball.

Lackey actually carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning but Adam Jones ended that with a solo moon shot over the Monster. Lackey only allowed one other hit and struck out eight with two walks on 113 pitches.

Orioles pseudo ace Chris Tillman (16-7) had been 3-0 in four starts against Boston this season but predictably, that came to an end as the Red Sox prevented a sweep by Baltimore. He went seven innings but allowed all three runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and two walks.

Another reason that this game felt like a dream is that it was completed in 2:18, imagine that! Stephen Drew (triple) hit a two-run homer (his 13th of the season) that just scraped over the Monster in the second and Dustin Pedroia (double) followed later in the frame with an RBI single that scored Jackie Bradley Jr. (2 hits, double).

Get out to Fenway tomorrow or Saturday since Boston's magic number to win the AL East is down to one, the weather is supposed to be awesome and it is their last home series of the regular season. Those lovable punching bags from the North-the Blue Jays (70-82 overall, 5th in AL East)-stumble into town for three games. Red-hot Jon Lester (14-8) takes on Esmil Rogers (5-7) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN); Clay Buchholz (11-0) will try to stay unbeaten Saturday night (7:10, NESN) against Mark Buehrle (11-9) and on Sunday afternoon (1:35, NESN) when we're all watching the Patriots play the Buccaneers, Felix Doubront (10-6) gets another start vs. R.A. Dickey (11-9).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Red Sox Can't Clinch A Playoff Spot (again) but Indians lose, making Boston's Magic Number one

For the second night in a row, the Red Sox had a chance to clinch a playoff spot (somewhere they haven't been in the last four years) but they couldn't do it as the resilient Orioles (81-70 overall, 39-37 away) outscored Boston (92-61 overall, 50-27 home) 5-3 in 12 innings. Baltimore has won six of their last seven series at Fenway and they are 9-6 against the Red Sox this season, the only MLB team with a winning record against MLB's top squad. Boston lost consecutive games for the first time in over a month (August 15 & 16).

The Royals held up their end of the bargain as they beat the Indians 7-2. That leaves Cleveland half a game outside of the Wild Card race and Baltimore is only one game behind Texas (2nd Wild Card). Boston didn't deserve to win as they grounded into four double plays and left nine runners on base. Enough with this charade, I can't imagine how much champagne is sitting on ice in Boston's locker room.

The Red Sox handed Jake Peavy (7 IP, 3 ER, 6 hits, 8 Ks) a 2-0 lead in the first on David Ortiz's two-run homer, his 28th of the season, but he couldn't hold it. Matt Wieters (run, 2 doubles) and Brian Roberts (2 hits, walk run) each had RBI doubles in the fifth as the O's tied it at two. Wieters added a sacrifice fly in the sixth to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead. That turned out to be short-lived as Mr. September Mike Napoli crushed a solo homer to center, his 23rd of the season to knot it at three.

Baltimore used six pitchers because they need to win every game they can for the remainder of this season. Rookie Kevin Gausman (2 IP, 5 Ks) looks destined to be a star for the O's. Things got wacky (as they usually do) in extra innings: Boston put the lead runner on in the 10th and 11th but they couldn't score. Chris Davis came through with the game's biggest hit, a two-run single that squeaked through the middle of the infield in the twelfth.

Jim Johnson pitched for the second night in a row but that didn't seem to faze him as he had a scoreless 12th inning for his 47th save of the season. Will Middlebrooks was 3-for-6 with a walk, Shane Victorino was 3-for-5 with a run and Dustin Pedroia went 2 for 6 with a double.

The Orioles go for the sweep tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) with their ace Chris Tillman (16-6) opposing John Lackey (9-12).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Red Sox Will Have To Wait Another Night To Clinch A Playoff Spot, Oh Well

Tonight, the Red Sox had a chance to clinch their first playoff spot since 2009 but they couldn't do it. Boston (92-60 overall, 50-26 home) lost 3-2 to Baltimore (80-70 overall, 38-37 away) at Fenway Park. It also turned out that they needed an Indians loss as well but they won 5-3 at the Royals so I guess it wasn't meant to be after all.

The Red Sox led 2-0 following Dustin Pedroia's lead off homer in the first then a sacrifice fly by Xander Bogaerts in the fourth inning. Orioles starter Scott Feldman was wild (6 walks) but he only allowed the two runs in five innings before giving way to five relievers who combined to put up four shutout innings. Former scrub Tommy Hunter (6-4) got the last two outs in the eighth to earn the win. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson has been very shaky at times this season but he struck out Bogaerts to end it (for his 46th save), stranding pinch-runner Quintin Berry at second base.

I pray that these are the final days of Ryan Dempster in Boston's rotation in 2013 so enjoy the mediocrity while it lasts. He actually pitched well, going six innings and allowing two earned runs on three hits with five strikeouts and four walks. Brian Roberts' grounder scored former Red Sox great Danny Valencia (two walks) in the fifth and Chris Davis tied it with his 51st homer of the season (a new Orioles record), a solo shot to center in the sixth.

Craig Breslow did an incredible job to work out of a jam (runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs) in the eighth without allowing a run. You knew Koji Uehara's (4-1) mind-boggling stretch would end at some point and I'm happy that it occurred in September rather than October. Valencia led off the ninth with a triple against Uehara to end his streak of 37 straight batters retired. Matt Wieters' sacrifice fly meant Uehara allowed his first run since July 7 (30 2/3 innings and 27 scoreless outings ago) and he was charged with his first loss of the season.

Jake Peavy (11-5) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-7) get to do the honors tomorrow night (7:10, NESN). With tonight's victory, Baltimore pulled to within two games of Texas and Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Cards. In other words, this series means plenty to both teams hence why it felt like a playoff game in the opener.

Another Wrist Injury Claims A Sneaky Important Patriot-Matthew Slater

I'm not going to wax poetic on the importance of special teams in the NFL, I'll leave that to overzealous coaches and analysts but I can admit that in recent years I've come to appreciate those jobs much more than ever before. On the surface, it seems like any jamoke can play on special teams, how tough can it be? However, when you see someone that is really good at it-like Patriots captain Matthew Slater-you realize the world of difference it can make.

That's why news of Slater's broken wrist is another tough blow for the Patriots (2-0) who have been ravaged with injuries already this season (Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola). Like Vereen, Slater is expected to miss four to six weeks. I guess we'll have to see how they stash him on the roster since Vereen was put on IR with that new designation to return after eight weeks. I'm not sure if you can use that on more than one player.

Regardless, mercy! On the one hand, New England has really benefited from their early schedule by playing the Sisters of the Poor (Bills and Jets) and now the Bucs (0-2) who are Team Turmoil come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon (1, FOX). However we've seen what the injuries to the Vereen and Amendola left Tom Brady to "work" with vs. the Jets last Thursday.

The son of NFL Hall of Famer offensive lineman Jackie Slater, Matthew has made the Pro Bowl twice for special teams with the Pats and he's an underrated leader on the team because he often has to work with more different players than most (since special teams guys are on the bottom of the roster so there is constant shuffling).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Red Sox Sweep Yankees To Finish 13-6 vs. New York This Season; Magic Number Down To 4

The Red Sox have become a wagon in 2013 and the Yankees didn't stand a chance this weekend or most of the other times they met this season. Boston (92-59 overall, 50-25 home) won 9-2 over New York (79-71 overall, 35-40 away) tonight at Fenway Park and truthfully, it didn't even feel that close. The Red Sox swept the three-game series (outscoring them 22-7) from the Yankees and finished 13-6 vs. New York, their best record against them since 1973.

Mariano Rivera's cute retirement tour was well done with plenty of unique Fenway/Red Sox related items but Boston did all they could in these past three games to make sure that he'll never face them again. The Red Sox are a season-high 33 games over .500 with the best record in MLB. Their magic number to clinch the AL East is only four.

Clay Buchholz (11-0) went six innings, allowing one run (0 earned) on two hits with three strikeouts and four walks. OBP machine Daniel Nava went 4 for 5 with two doubles, a run and RBI. Mike Napoli set the tone with a two-run blast in the first inning off the back wall over the camera in center field, his 22nd homer of the season. David Ortiz was 2 for 4 with two RBIs, a run and walk. Dustin Pedroia (2 walks, 2 runs) had a two-run double and Xander Bogaerts was 2 for 3 with double, two runs and a walk.

Ivan Nova (8-5) was New York's best pitcher for a long stretch this season but he has been hit hard lately. In 4+ innings, he allowed five runs (4 earned) on six hits with four walks.

The regular season ends two weeks from today; Boston has six more games left on their final homestand of the regular season. They host the Orioles (79-70 overall, 3rd in AL East) beginning on Tuesday (7:10, NESN) at Fenway. After tomorrow's day off, the Red Sox send Ryan Dempster (8-9) to the mound on Tuesday vs. Scott Feldman (12-10). Wednesday (7:10, NESN) gives us Jake Peavy (11-5) against Wei-Yin Chen (7-7) and Thursday (7:10, NESN) wraps up with John Lackey (9-12) vs. Chris Tillman (16-6).

UPDATE 9/17: With Pawtucket's season over, the Red Sox added three more players to their already bloated roster: Steven Wright, Brock Holt and Brayan Villareal.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Don't Look Now But The Red Sox Are The Best Team in MLB

On paper, one of the only things the Red Sox seem to lack this season is a true ace. Don't tell that to Jon Lester (14-9) though who has been pitching like one for the his last eight starts: he's held opponents to three earned runs or less in each successive outing. This afternoon, he did the impossible-keeping a Red Sox-Yankees game well under three hours (2:43) as Boston (91-59 overall, 49-25 home) beat New York (79-70 overall, 35-39 away) 5-1 at Fenway Park.

Truth be told, this wasn't exactly a vintage Yankee lineup as Alfonso Soriano was a late scratch with a thumb injury, Mark Reynolds batted second and the steroid riddled corpse of A-Rod batted cleanup. Regardless, Lester was brilliant: he went eight innings and allowed one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

CC Sabathia (13-13) has morphed into just another guy which is shocking when you consider the absurd amount of innings he used to throw every season and his ahem less than stellar conditioning. In six innings, the Red Sox touched him up for six earned runs on nine hits with five strikeouts and four walks. New York certainly won't regret the bloated contract they gave him.

Boston got to work early as they scored all five of their runs by the fifth inning. Will Middlebrooks drove in Mike Napoli (2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks) in the second for the first Red Sox run and a 1-0 advantage. David Ortiz knocked in Dustin Pedroia with an RBI double in the third and Jonny Gomes (double, 2 walks) singled in Ortiz.

Robinson Cano provided the only Yankee run with a ground out in the fourth but New York was held to just three hits and two walks. Curtis Granderson doubled, tripled and scored the run. Shane Victorino (2 for 3, double, stolen base) made it 4-1 with an RBI single in the home half of the fourth then Daniel Nava wrapped it up with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

You knew it was Boston's day when Franklin Morales had a 1-2-3 9th inning on 12 pitches. The Yankees must have planned late lunches on Newbury Street or something with the lack of fight that they exhibited in such a must-win for them.

The Red Sox already clinched another series victory but they can sweep the Yankees tomorrow night (8:05, ESPN) as unbeaten Clay Buchholz (10-0) takes on Ivan Nova (8-4). Who am I kidding, we'll all be watching 49ers-Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. Boston has planned a pregame ceremony for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera but what better way to send him into retirement than stomping on their ill-fated postseason dreams? PS I bet you hadn't heard that he was retiring.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Red Sox Become 1st Team To 90 Wins After 8-4 Triumph Over Yankees

We are still a couple weeks away from the postseason but I'm already struggling to find new ways to state that the Red Sox are having an incredible regular season and I hope you're enjoying it half as much as them. Each game brings new heroes and highlights plus bushy beards to tug on. Tonight Boston (90-59 overall, AL-best 45-28 at home) beat the Yankees (79-69 overall, 35-38 away) 8-4 in their series opener at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox are 11-6 against the Yankees with two games left in the regular season. It looked like it was going to be a blowout in the first inning as Boston piled up four runs on Hiroki Kuroda (11-11). A run scored on Mike Carp's ground out, Daniel Nava (2 hits, run) drove in a run with an RBI single and Stephen Drew doubled off the wall which scored two teammates.

Boston starter John Lackey allowed a solo homer to light-hitting Brendan Ryan (2 hits, 2 runs) in the third inning then Lyle Overbay's sacrifice fly in the sixth cut it to 3-2. Robinson Cano (4 for 4 with 3 doubles, run) tied it for the Yankees in the seventh with a two-run double.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia stepped up big time with the deciding play: a grand slam to right center field in the seventh inning. That proved to be the difference, his third career grand slam and 13th homer of the season.

Junichi Tazawa offered a glimpse of what he had been earlier in 2013: a 1-2-3 eighth inning on 10 pitches (9 strikes!). It wasn't a save situation, ugh, but closer supreme Koji Uehara still appeared and recorded his own 1-2-3 ninth inning on 9 pitches (8 strikes) which included a strikeout. I've never seen a Red sox closer or pitcher for that matter on this type of roll, it's amazing.

Dustin Pedroia (2 for 5 with run) continued to bat leadoff with Jacoby Ellsbury out indefinitely. In a matchup that feels like it's happened a bunch of times this season, tomorrow afternoon (1:05, NESN) Jon Lester (13-8) takes on C.C. Sabathia (13-12). Every game is life or death for New York because they are only two games behind Tampa Bay for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Red Sox might not be in it but the chase for the wild card is intense: Cleveland is half a game up on the Yankees, Baltimore is half a game behind New York and the Royals are 3.5 behind the Rays. Got it?

Friday, September 13, 2013

No Seriously, What the Hell Did We Just Watch?

I have seen plenty of ugly football in my life, I used to cover high school football in Massachusetts after all, but tonight's Patriots-Jets debacle at Gillette Stadium was a new low. The Patriots (2-0) beat the Jets (1-1) 13-10 in their 2013 home opener that set the game of football back at least 20 years and made me want to huff ether.

How wretched did New England play against one of the worst teams in the NFL? Well I'm happy you asked. They had nine first downs, went 4 for 18 on third down conversions and only gained 232 total yards. Just like on Sunday when the Pats were lucky enough to be lining up against the hapless Bills, once again this evening they were rewarded by the NFL schedulemakers since there are only a handful of teams that would have lost to the Patriots with the level they played at.

New York lost because they had four turnovers (3 interceptions by rookie quarterback Geno Smith and a fumble by wide receiver Stephen Hill). Tom Brady (19 of 39, 185 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) had one of the most mediocre games of his legendary career and it's easy to see why: Julian Edelman (career-high 13 catches, 78 yards on 18 targets) was his main weapon in the passing game. A confluence of factors contributed to this being such a stinkbomb: short week, no Danny Amendola or Rob Gronkowski, poor execution and lack of chemistry. That about covers it, no?

Rookie Aaron Dobson was left wide open and as a result of New York's boneheaded blitz call, his first NFL catch was a 39-yard touchdown. After Aqib Talib forced a fumble on Stephen Hill's (4 catches, 87 yards) 33-yard catch and recovered by Devin McCourty. He returned it 44 yards to the New York 8-yard line but the Pats had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Foreshadowing!

Nick Folk got the Jets on the board with a 37-yard field goal later in the first quarter and Gostkowski's 30-yard kick in the second quarter turned out to be New England's final points. That's right, the team that won this pig orgy didn't score for the final 34:55. New York made it somewhat competitive as Bilal Powell had a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter which cut it to 13-10. As you can see, neither squad scored in the listless fourth quarter. I feel bad for the poor saps that paid all that money to go to this awful game, get stuck in traffic for hours then sat through that complete with buckets of rain. Fun times!

Obviously the Patriots' defense was the key to the win: they had four sacks (2 for Chandler Jones and 1 for Tommy Kelly and Michael Buchanan), three interceptions (2 for Talib and 1 for Alfonzo Dennard) and they took advantage of the fact that they were playing a rookie quarterback for the second week in a row.

Smith did his part to piss the game away by tossing all three of his picks in the fourth quarter that some people call winning time. Dobson (3 catches, 56 yards on 10 targets) and KenBrell Thompkins (2 catches, 47 yards on 7 targets) were never on the same page with Brady. That's not to say that every throw was perfect to them but they each had numerous passes clank off their hands. There are reports of Amendola being out until Week 6 which is a scary proposition. I don't know who the Pats could get at this point but they need a dependable veteran that knows their system and can jump right in (Brandon Lloyd?) to help out the rookies-Josh Boyce didn't even get a snap for some reason.

With a very rainy night and nobody to throw to besides Edelman on like 5-yard catches, you figured that Stevan Ridley (16 carries, 40 yards) would get plenty of yards assuming (big if) he didn't fumble. There was no Shane Vereen so this was mostly Ridley in the running game but for the second straight contest he was held to under 50 rushing yards (granted Sunday he would have surpassed that if he hadn't gone to the doghouse).

Knock on wood, it seemed like the Pats made it through this game relatively unscathed despite the short week and quick recovery time. The best thing I can say for them is that now they get a couple extra days off before they host the Buccaneers (0-1) on Sunday, September 22 (1, Fox). For what it's worth, Tampa Bay lost to the Jets in Week 1 (on the luckiest sequence) which is good news for the Patriots. They need as much time as they can get to try and improve this sorry offensive unit.

UPDATE 9/14: It was a quiet day in Foxborough after last night's nailbiter vs. the Jets. The Patriots re-signed rookie guard Josh Kline to the practice squad and released offensive tackle R.J. Dill.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Red Sox Outlast Rays 7-3 in 10 innings thanks to Carp's Pinch-Hit Grand Slam

Tune into a Red Sox game on almost any given day or night and odds are that this season you'll them do something spectacular. Tonight, Boston (89-58 overall, 42-33 away) beat Tampa Bay (78-66 overall, 44-28 home) 7-3 in 10 innings at Tropicana Field. Koji Uehara (4-0) set a team record as he has now retired 34 consecutive batters while ho hum Mike Carp cranked the first pinch-hit grand slam in extra innings in Red Sox history.

The win put Boston 9.5 games up on the Rays which means that the race for the AL East is all but officially over. It also helps that the Red Sox are 12-6 vs. Tampa Bay this season with just tomorrow night's game remaining in the regular season at least. Ryan Dempster (5 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts) was OK but the real story in terms of pitching for the Red Sox was Franklin Morales (1-2-3 6th), Uehara and Junichi Tazawa (scoreless 10th inning).

The Rays handed the Red Sox their first two runs in the third inning when Wil Myers bungled Mike Napoli's sinking liner into a two-run double. Daniel Nava's (2 hits) ground out scored David Ortiz (2 walks, 2 runs) to make it 3-0 good guys. David Dejesus got Tampa Bay on the board in the home half of the third with an RBI double. Evan Longoria (double, walk) cut it to 3-2 with an RBI double in the seventh and former Red Sox great James Loney tied it with a solo homer off Brandon Workman in the eighth.

Roberto Hernandez (don't call him Fausto Carmona) had the honor of giving up Carp's ninth home run of the season, which came on the first pitch he saw. Batting leadoff for the second straight game, Dustin Pedroia reached base three times (2 singles, walk, 2 runs). Boston has already clinched another series win and they continue to open up their lead on other AL contenders (5 more wins than Detroit and Oakland) for the best record in the league.

Jake Peavy (11-5) takes on Jeremy Hellickson (11-8) tomorrow (7:10, NESN) in the series finale. The Rays desperately need a win since they've gone 3-7 in their last 10 games and the Yankees have pulled within a game of their spot as the second AL Wild Card. What's more, the Indians and Orioles are only 1.5 games back and the Royals are just two games behind Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Week 2 Injury Report: Patriots vs. Jets

It's hard to believe but the Patriots will be playing another game a little more than 24 hours from now. New England (1-0) welcomes the Jets (1-0) to Gillette Stadium for the first installment of their yearly double dose of AFC East hatred. It is also New England's 2013 home opener. For the last few days, we've been focused on all the Pats injuries and now we know the status' of Shane Vereen (wrist) who is out until at least Week 11 while Danny Amendola (groin) and Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) are both doubtful as expected.

For the Jets, three players have already been ruled out: defensive lineman Quinton Coples (ankle), wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (concussion) and quarterback/punching bag Mark Sanchez (shoulder). Everyone else on New York is listed as probable so we won't bother with them. We'll have to wait until tomorrow night (8:25, NFL Network and ABC) to see what other four guys are inactive for Rex Ryan's squad.

In addition, eight Patriots are questionable: Brandon Bolden (knee), Aaron Dobson (hamstring), Nate Ebner (ankle), Duron Harmon (hamstring), Matthew Slater (knee), Zach Sudfeld (hamstring), Will Svitek (knee) and Leon Washington (knee). Slater and Sudfeld are the ones I'll be keeping a close eye on since they played vs. Buffalo on Sunday afternoon. The other six guys didn't suit up against the Bills but I expect Dobson to play since Amendola will be on the sideline.

I'll update this tomorrow before the opening kickoff. In other Patriots roster news, they picked up rookie defensive lineman Chris Jones off waivers from Tampa Bay. To make room for him, they waived offensive lineman Josh Kline who I feel like has been involved in a million moves over the last few weeks.

UPDATE 9/12: The inactives for the Patriots are Bolden, Amendola, Svitek, linebacker Steven Beauharnais, Gronk, Sudfeld and Jones. The inactives for the Jets are quarterback Brady Quinn, guard William Campbell, tackle Ben Ijalana, tackle Oday Aboushi in addition to Coples, Kerey and Sanchez.

Red Sox To Unveil A Statue at Fenway Park for Carl Yastrzemski On September 22

I'm a sucker for a good statue (think Red Auerbach in Faneuil Hall) and I think one of the things that makes the New England sports teams so special is their collective rich history of championships, iconic players and classic games. That's why I was psyched to learn this morning that the Red Sox have decided to add a bronze statue of legendary Hall of Famer outfielder Carl Yastrzemski outside of Gate B. It will be unveiled before the September 22 game vs. Toronto and located next to the Ted Williams and "The Teammates" (Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr) statues that have already been there for years.

This is what makes us appreciate all the annoying aspects of Fenway Park, when the goofy Red Sox owners make a right decision like this once in a while. You can't replicate things like this in cookie cutter ballparks that populate MLB. If I owned the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots or Red Sox, I would be doing stuff like this all the time. You don't need statues of everybody but find a way to remember the top players/coaches/teams. Not to get all warm and fuzzy but this is what connects younger generations (like mine) to great players like Yaz that we never got to see with our own two eyes but have always heard about.

Yaz had a remarkable run, spending all 23 years of his brilliant career in Boston. He was an 18-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner and he captured the Triple Crown in 1967 when the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox reached the World Series.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks Named American League Co-Players of The Week

All of the intrigue about the Red Sox making the playoffs this season has been taken away, not that I'm complaining, as they have put some serious distance between themselves and the rest of the American League: 7.5 games on Tampa Bay entering tonight with both idle, four more wins than Oakland and five more wins than Detroit for the best record. Boston only has 17 games left in the regular season, meaning the AL East crown and home-field advantage is a formality at this point.

Two of the main catalysts of their recent surge have been third baseman Will Middlebrooks and first baseman Mike Napoli. This afternoon, both were named AL co-Players of the Week. Over those seven games, the Red Sox went 5-2 and scored 56 runs. Both guys put up video game numbers: Napoli hit .467 with .577 OBP and 1.143 SLG. Not to be outdone, Middlebrooks hit .464 with .500 OBP and eight runs scored. Each player slugged four home runs (including a grand slam) and nine RBIs.

The last time two Red Sox shared this honor was in April: Napoli and reliever Andrew Bailey, remember him? If they want to go anywhere in the playoffs, Middlebrooks and Napoli will be a key part of their gameplan. We know that Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and to a lesser extent Shane Victorino will get on base. Jacoby Ellsbury is sidelined indefinitely with a broken bone in his foot so who knows when he'll return. On paper, Boston doesn't have the most imposing lineup until you see them in action. They wear pitchers down and run up high pitch counts to get them out early and face the weak middle relievers.

What makes this so impressive is that Mike and Will went through serious slumps at various times this season, so bad that they made you wonder if they'd ever bounce back to be productive in 2013. Middlebrooks was sent down to Pawtucket (Triple-A) for a month and a half but since he returned to the Red Sox on August 10, he's hit .368 with 1.055 OBP, six homers and 16 RBIs. He'll never be Paul Molitor in terms of bat control and being impossible to strike out but he definitely addressed his biggest flaw: chasing bad pitches out of the strike zone plus swinging and missing way too often.

From July 31-August 26, Napoli looked lost: he hit .188 with 38 strikeouts. He's already struck out 172 times this season, meaning he's going to set a new Red Sox single season record so it's pointless to get him to change his softball swing. That's who he is, all or nothing basically every time he steps to the plate. You just have to hope that he continues his hot streak since the Red Sox certainly enjoy his power. The good news is that throughout his career he's been a solid performer in October: in 32 games, he's hit .272, .373 OBP and .457 SLG with five homers and 19 RBIs.

Shane Vereen Broke A Bone In His Wrist, Welcome Back From the Doghouse Stevan Ridley!

Fortunes change so quickly in the NFL since there is an absurd amount of injuries every week. That's why talk of a longer regular season is always borderline insane, if there were any more games teams would be left with a totally shredded roster and who wants to see practice squad bums playing in December and January?

This is a long-winded way of saying that the Patriots (1-0) could have their hands full in Week 2 with the Jets (1-0) on Thursday (ABC & NFL Network, 8:25) because reports surfaced today that promising young running back Shane Vereen (159 total yards vs. Buffalo) broke a small bone in his wrist on the first play of the game so he'll be out for a few weeks following today's surgery. Oh and rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld (a temporary starter) pulled his hamstring, why he sat out the fourth quarter, so his availability is in doubt too.

The ripple down effect of this means that Stevan Ridley will have to get his head out of his ass and hopefully stop fumbling all the time. After he coughed the ball up twice yesterday (one wasn't technically ruled a fumble cause replays were inconclusive) in the first half, he didn't see the field again all afternoon. Ridley has plenty of talent, this is the same guy who had 1263 rushing yards and 12 TDs last season. He was even on his way to a good game in Buffalo, with nine carries for 46 yards before his bad habit bubbled up yet again.

Should Ridley struggle, there are other options: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington. Granted, they are low on the depth chart for a reason. The injury reports will come out tomorrow so we'll get a better idea if the Pats will need to sign another tight end assuming Sudfeld is out. If he can't play, New England would be left with one healthy tight end on the roster: Michael Hoomanauwanui. Yikes.

Even with these injuries, the Patriots will be heavily favored against the Jets in their 2013 home opener at Gillette Stadium but these setbacks won't help an offense that looked very shaky against a mediocre at best Bills squad that they absolutely own.

UPDATE 9/10: Undrafted rookie defensive tackle AJ Francis was re-signed to the practice squad. To make room for him, rookie wide receiver Quentin Sims was released. The Pats put Vereen on injured reserve, designated to return which means at the earliest he can play in Week 11 (they have a bye the week before). To take his roster spot, they re-signed tight Matthew Mulligan who was with the team last week before the latest cut.


Beating The Bills Doesn't Mean Much, The Patriots Have Plenty of Work To Do

You know that as a fan base we are truly spoiled when we can look at a season-opening win on the road, against a divisional opponent that featured a last-minute drive and think, man the Patriots really played poorly. Such is the world we live in where 23-21 victories over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium fill us with more frustration and anger than joy. Stephen Gostkowski's clutch (for him) 35-yard field goal with five seconds left was the difference.

This is more than us being miserable bastards, after all of New England's recent history of being regular season heroes then losing in the postseason, these games take on a more sterile look and feel. A function of being in the AFC East (one of the worst divisions in pro sports) is that the Pats are basically a lock to win it and/or make the playoffs every season that Tom Brady (29 of 52, 288 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and Bill Belichick are employed in Foxborough.

It was a sloppy contest with both teams combining for five turnovers and Buffalo getting whistled for 10 penalties (75 yards). New England started off well, leading 10-0 after the first quarter, and ended strongly (outscoring Buffalo 6-0 in the fourth quarter) so it was the second and third quarters that were bizarre even by wacky opening day standards.

I will resist the urge to draw final conclusions off of one game but there were certainly some trends to keep an eye on. Danny Amendola (10 catches, 104 yards) might be made of glass but when he can drag himself onto the field, he has great hands and Brady already seems to have built a connection with him. Conversely, preseason All-Stars Kenbrell Thompkins (4 catches, 42 yards; 14 targets) and Zach Sudfeld (0 catches, 1 target) looked like the undrafted rookies they are rather than the preseason standouts that everyone went overboard praising.

Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel (18 of 27, 150 yards, 2 TDs) was predictably up and down. He showed the ability to run (19-yard carry) and sling it (witness the beautiful 18-yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson) but he also lacked touch on some of his easier throws.

Bigger picture, three of New England's obvious storylines coming into this season only got further muddled: 1) their defense got no pass rush (0 sacks, 4 QB hits); 2) Stevan Ridley (2 fumbles, 1 lost) has a case of fumbilitis that might be fatal; 3) outside of Amendola, who can Brady confidently throw to?

Julian Edelman (7 catches, 79 yards, 2 TDs) and Shane Vereen (101 yards rushing; 58 yards receiving) were the unexpected (but not really) workhorses for the Patriots. New England's defense looked solid (albeit against the Bills and a rookie QB that nobody fears), it's not a leap to say they only really gave up seven points since the Bills got a 74-yard fumble return for a TD by Da'Norris Searcy and a gift interception (off Sudfeld's stone hands) that set them up with a short field for another 18-yard touchdown pass-this time to rookie Robert Woods. Jerod Mayo had 15 tackles (12 solo) and Kyle Arrington forced two fumbles that were recovered by Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich respectively.

To state the obvious: Brady really missed Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The good news is that the former should be back in a few weeks when the competition ramps up (sorry Jets and Bucs). Amendola's groin injury is a worry heading into Thursday's (8:25, NFL Network) home opener vs. Jets (1-0). Playing two divisional games on such a short schedule to begin the season seems cruel but I'm not Adrian Gonzalez so I won't complain.

The Jets should be 0-1 but thanks to an all-time bonehead penalty, they were able to kick a last-second field goal of their own for an 18-17 win vs. Buccaneers that they didn't deserve. Oh well, the Pats will face another rookie quarterback-Geno Smith-who started his pro career by going 24 of 38 for 256 yards, one touchdown, one interception and 47 yards rushing. The Patriots and Bills won't cross paths again until Week 17 at Gillette Stadium, you know by then that Buffalo will be playing for nothing but pride and a high draft pick.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Down 8-3, Red Sox Rally For 12-8 Victory Over Yankees; Boston Now Has Most Wins in MLB

Don't look now but the Red Sox are suddenly the team to beat this October in the American League. It's hard to recall a team that has rallied so many times and pulled out one improbable win after another in a single regular season. Tonight, Boston (86-57 overall, 39-32 away) trailed New York (75-66 overall, 43-30 home) 8-3 after five innings but they managed to score five runs in the seventh and four in the eighth for a soul-crushing 12-8 triumph.

This was Boston's fourth win in a row and 11th in their last 13. Last night and this evening show what makes the Red Sox so tough to beat: they can win any style of game. Their offense usually carries them (see: tonight) but they get enough pitching and help from the bullpen to be in almost every contest. It also helps when they compete in a glorified Little League park like Yankee Stadium (foreshadowing!).

Dustin Pedroia (3 hits, double, walk, run) started the rally in the seventh with an infield single that scored David Ross (2 hits, RBI). Mike Napoli (3 hits, 3 runs, double, 2 walks) flied out to right, I mean got extremely lucky to hit a grand slam (sixth of his career; third this season) just over the reach of a leaping Ichiro to tie it at eight. It was his 19th homer of the season.

New York's clownshow bullpen lived up to that moniker (which I just created): Shane Victorino (2 hits, 2 runs)-playing center field and batting leadoff with Jacoby Ellsbury resting-hit a two-run homer (his 14th of the season), Daniel Nava aka Mr. OBP (.392) walked with the bases loaded and Stephen Drew (2 RBIs) made it 12-8 with an opposite field single.

Brandon Workman (5-2) got the win after playing the role of Junichi Tazawa and recording four outs (2 strikeouts). I'm not a fan of using Koji Uehara's precious right arm in non-save situations but he didn't seem to mind, retiring the Yankees 1-2-3 in ninth on 12 pitches/11 strikes (2 strikeouts). What do I know?

Earlier highlights were Alfonso Soriano's two-run homer in the first, his whopping 13th since he was traded to New York. Will Middlebrooks (2 hits, 2 runs) continued to rake out of the nine-hole with a solo shot in the fifth (his 14th of the season).

In a shocking development, both games this weekend are 1:05 p.m. starts. It's almost as if these teams are telling you to enjoy college football on Saturday and the glorious NFL on Sunday. Tomorrow afternoon (NESN), John Lackey (8-12) faces converted reliever David Huff (2-0).

Week 1: Patriots at Bills Injury Report

I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune by the end of the regular season but at this moment, I'm genuinely excited to look at the Patriots' injury report for their Week 1 game on Sunday (1, CBS) at the Bills. Yes, I know I have a problem. You'll have to excuse my sickness because it's been 8.5 months since we had one of these to pour over and blindly speculate about.

There weren't many surprises for either team but I guess that is to be expected. Patriots offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) is out while tight end Rob Gronkowski (back) is doubtful. Running back Brandon Bolden (knee), safeties Nate Ebner (ankle) and rookie Duron Harmon (hamstring) along with rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring) are all questionable.

Buffalo kept it simple: kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), cornerback Stephen Gilmore (wrist) and center Doug Legursky (knee) are all out. Safety Jairus Byrd (foot) is doubtful, I don't expect him to play after he held out for most of training camp and the preseason. There is no way he is in game shape already.

Stay tuned on Sunday afternoon when I'll update this before the opening kickoff at Ralph Wilson Stadium (pictured above).

UPDATE 9/7: Rookie offensive lineman Josh Kline was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster. Also, Leon Washington was re-signed and defensive tackle A.J. Francis was waived. Rookie center Braxston Cave was re-signed to the practice squad.

All the guys on the Patriots' injury report from Friday have been ruled out. It makes sense because they have their next game on Thursday so it's a very quick turnover, plus they should roll over the Bills and Jets regardless of who is available.

UPDATE 9/8: Byrd is out for the Bills.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Red Sox Hang 20 Runs (!) On The Tigers Including A Franchise Record 8 Home Runs

How would the Red Sox respond a night after their best win of the season (2-1 over the Tigers)? How about by setting numerous club records in an absurd 20-4 beatdown at Fenway Park? Boston (84-57 overall, 47-25 home) took two of three from Detroit (81-59 overall, 37-32 away) and in the process won their MLB-best 29th series of the season. It gets better: they also went up 2.5 games on the Tigers for the best record in the American League.

Seven different guys hit homers for the Red Sox, including two by David Ortiz who was the man of the hour after notching his 2000th career hit. There were many crazy aspects to this historical victory (their largest margin of defeat in 10 years) but my favorite is that Boston ended the game by scoring the final 17 runs. That's right, they actually trailed 4-3 in the fourth before Ortiz tied it with a solo homer (his first roundtripper of the game) then the Red Sox never looked back.

It's hard to overshadow a grand slam but that's exactly what happened to Will Middlebrooks' four-run missle. Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli had solo shots while Stephen Drew, Daniel Nava and Ryan Lavarnway cranked two-run bombs as Boston had eight homers (tying a team record from 1977). In six innings, Ryan Dempster (8-9) allowed four earned runs with seven strikeouts but that was long forgotten by the time he earned the win.

It got so bad that you almost bad for all the poor Tigers relievers forced to come in and getting absolutely destroyed. Haha just kidding, I loved every second and never wanted it to end. The Rays won last night and this evening to remain 5.5 games in back of the Red Sox.

I don't know how they've hung around but the Yankees (75-64 overall, 3rd in AL East) are one of the hottest teams in MLB. Boston gets a chance to really damage their playoff hopes with four games in the Bronx starting tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) with Jake Peavy (11-5) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4). Felix Doubront (10-6) takes on 95-year-old Andy Pettitte (10-9) on Friday (7:10, NESN). Both weekend games are 1:05 starts as John Lackey (8-12) faces David Huff (2-0) on Saturday and Jon Lester (13-8) meets Hiroki Kuroda (11-10) on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like October At Fenway Park

In hindsight, it's easy to admit that for a brief period in the last decade we started to take playoff baseball for granted. The Red Sox were in the mix every season so actually getting there wasn't all that exciting (same deal with the Patriots, still). Well it's been four years since Boston has competed in the postseason and five years since they actually won a game. This is a long way of saying that tonight's instant classic 2-1 win by the Red Sox (83-57 overall, 46-25 home) over the Tigers (81-58 overall, 37-31 away) at Fenway Park felt like it took place in October rather than early September.

No doubt plenty will happen between now and then but it's not hard to imagine a repeat of this matchup in next month's ALCS. These look like the two best teams in the AL (and maybe MLB) so what a treat that would be for baseball fans. Jon Lester (13-8) pitched his best game of the season (7 innings, 1 earned run, 8 hits, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks) as he was able to outduel Max Scherzer (19-2; 7+ innings, 2 earned runs, 5 hits, 8 strikeouts, 3 walks) and also deny him his 20th win.

In such a long campaign, it's extremely rare that all the stars align and we get to witness an excellent regular season contest like this one turned out to be. Former Red Sox Jose Iglesias staked Detroit to a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the second but the Tigers third base coach made the stupid decision to send their fat catcher Brayan Pena who was thrown out at home by a mile to end the inning.

Will Middlebrooks provided all the offense that Boston would need with a two-run single up the middle in the fifth that scored Jonny Gomes (2 hits) and Stephen Drew. Austin Jackson was 2 for 4 with a double and Omar Infante went 2 for 4 with a run. After missing the last three games with an abdominal issue, Miguel Cabrera returned to the lineup but went 0 for 4. No at bat was bigger for Lester than in the fifth when Cabrera came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Lester fell behind 2-and-0 to the best hitter on the planet but ended up getting him to ground out to shortstop.

Red Sox manager John Farrell broke this down like a playoff game, having Brandon Workman, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa all get one out apiece in the eighth. That paved the way for who has quickly become one of the most effective closers in MLB: Koji Uehara. He nailed down his 17th save on nine pitches and remarkably he still struck out two batters including Iglesias to end it (delicious irony!).

You wish that this series could go on forever (relatively speaking) but sadly it at least temporarily has to end tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) with the D-squad showdown of Ryan Dempster (7-9) vs. Rick Porcello (11-7); get your bullpens ready because it should be a long evening.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tigers Completely Shut Down Red Sox 3-0 In Series Opener

John Lackey (8-12) continues to pitch very well this season but for whatever unexplainable reason, the Red Sox (82-57 overall, 45-25 home) can't ever seem to score many runs for him. This afternoon at Fenway Park, the Tigers (81-57 overall, 37-30 away) blanked Boston 3-0 thanks to seven shutout innings by Doug Fister (12-7) and just enough offense.

The Red Sox had their first two batters reach base in the first, second and seventh inning but they could never push any of them across thanks to some deft work by Fister (4 hits, 4 strikeouts, 4 walks). Lackey (7.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 7 hits, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk) matched Fister for a while but Andy Dirks broke the deadlock with an RBI triple in the seventh. Detroit scored a run on a double play but Lackey was able to escape further damage.

The Tigers had the bases loaded but after Matt Thornton relieved Lackey, all he allowed was Prince Fielder's sacrifice fly in the eighth that scored Austin Jackson (2 for 4, double, stolen base). Somehow the Tigers improved to 9-2 this season with no Miguel Cabrera in their lineup.

Daniel Nava's (3 for 3, 2 doubles, walk) excellent season continued but unfortunately, he had half of Boston's hits. Fireballer Bruce Rondon who hit 102 MPH struck out two in the eighth after Phil Coke got the first out then Jose Veras recorded a scoreless ninth inning for his 21st save of the season. That number is misleading since most of those saves came in Houston; now, he's only the closer in Detroit when Joaquin Benoit needs a break.

Expect another low-scoring pitcher's duel (kiss of death) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) as Jon Lester (12-8) faces Max Scherzer (19-1).

Red Sox Sweep White Sox & Rays Get Swept By A's, Nice Weekend

At this point with only 24 games left in the regular season, I'm comfortable in saying that reaching the playoffs is almost a foregone conclusion for the Red Sox. Boston (82-56 overall, 45-24 home) swept the hapless White Sox (56-79 overall, 24-45 away) in three games this weekend, culminating with a 7-6 victory this afternoon at Fenway Park. The sweep felt that much better since the Rays dropped all three of their games in Oakland so suddenly they trail Boston by 5.5 games for first place in the AL East.

The Red Sox can be excused for going up 5-0 on the White Sox by the third inning then putting it on cruise control, they are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have won seven of their last eight games. Chicago cut it to 5-4 in the fourth and 7-6 in the eighth but they couldn't come all the way back. Felix Doubront (3.2 innings, 4 earned runs, 7 hits, 90 pitches) was the main reason why this was way tighter than it had to be. Staked to the big lead, he just couldn't put guys away.

Brandon Workman (4-2) got the win in relief but the real stars out of the bullpen today for Boston were Franklin Morales (4 outs), Junichi Tazawa (got out of bases loaded jam to end the seventh) and of course Koji Uehara who recorded a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save of the season.

Jacoby Ellsbury (2 runs, walk, stolen base) started the scoring with a two-run single in the second and David Ortiz came through with a two-run double in the same frame. Stephen Drew made it 5-0 with his 11th homer of the season, a solo shot to left center in the third.

White Sox kept getting on base in the fourth and Jeff Keppinger "put in on the board!" (Hawk Harrelson's deranged voice) with a sacrifice fly. Dayan Viciedo followed with an RBI double and Conor Gillaspie trimmed Boston's lead to 5-4 with a two-run single.

The game took so long (3:39) because there were numerous delays: White Sox manager Robin Ventura was ejected for arguing a call, the Red Sox used six pitchers and Shane Victorino left with a hip injury. Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, run, walk) reached base on an infield hit in the fourth and Ellsbury scored on Gillaspie's throwing error. Ortiz knocked in another run in the inning with an RBI single.

Paul Konerko (2 hits, run, walk) drove in Alexei Ramirez (3 hits, w runs, 2 stolen bases) in the fifth with a single and Tyler Flowers (2 hits) smashed a solo homer in the eighth.

It being September 1, the Red Sox made numerous moves since the rosters expanded: for me the two important ones were the trade for Providence College (my alma mater) alum John McDonald (East Lyme, CT native who lives in Scituate, MA) and designating Daniel Bard for assignment. McDonald is a spectacular shortstop and second basemen that should give them some options in the postseason and down the stretch while Bard's career is truly at a crossroads now.

Thankfully the next five series for the Red Sox are all against teams above .500, that should be good preparation for October not to mention way more entertaining contests. The Tigers (80-57, 1st in AL Central) come to Fenway for a marquee three-game series starting tomorrow afternoon (1:35, NESN)-Labor Day. The possible ALCS preview begins with John Lackey (8-11) vs. Doug Fister (11-7). Max Scherzer (19-1) goes for his MLB-leading 20th win of the season on Tuesday (7:10, NESN) against Jon Lester (12-8) and Ryan Dempster (7-9) wraps it up on Wednesday (7:10, NESN) vs. Rick Porcello (11-7) in what could be a real life version of Home Run Derby.

Boston has experienced incredible luck in the past few weeks in terms of missing top pitchers (Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Chris Sale) and that continues against Detroit since Justin Verlander pitched today vs. Cleveland. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, Miguel Cabrera has sat out the last two games with an injury so who knows his status for these three games. The baseball fan in me wants to see him out there but since the Tigers have such a huge lead (7.5 games over Indians), it would be silly to throw him out there at less than 100%.