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Friday, May 30, 2014

If Only The Red Sox Could Play the Braves Every Week, They'd Be in Great Shape

I get that it was a small sample size and any team can have a bad series or week (ahem) but I still can't believe that Atlanta came into Monday's opener vs. Boston seven games over .500. The Braves' record (28-25 overall, 10-13 away) took a nose dive though as they lost two at Turner Field then came to Boston and promptly lost two more at Fenway Park. The Red Sox (24-29 overall, 12-17 home) wrapped up this strange four-game/two-city set with their fourth straight victory, 4-3.

Atlanta made three errors in the last two innings so it was only fitting that this ended with a walk-off error on second baseman Tommy La Stella who couldn't handle Chris Johnson's throw from third base (that wasn't that difficult at all). The ball skipped away, allowing Jackie Bradley Jr. to come around from second with the winning run after Xander Bogaerts (3 for 5, run, RBI, double) got a good piece of Craig Kimbrel's (0-1) pitch and grounded it sharply to third.

Before yesterday, the Red Sox hadn't won three consecutive games this season so it's nice to see them finally start to find their way. As usual, starting pitching has been the key as Jake Peavy went eight innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and one walk. From there, Koji Uehara (1-1) pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his first win of 2014.

I'm not Mike Minor (7 innings, 1 earned run, 7 hits, 3 strikeouts, 0 walks) but this was one that Atlanta truly choked away since they led 3-1 in the eighth after Freddie Freeman's RBI double. Setup man David Carpenter was charged with a pair of runs in the eighth on RBI singles by Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski (2 for 4). Kimbrel is normally the best closer in the National League but he hadn't worked in a while so the rust showed as he came on with two outs in the eighth and retired David Ross with the bases loaded but then couldn't get anyone out in the ninth.

Jason Heyward (2 for 5) handed the Braves a 1-0 lead in the third with a solo homer then Evan Gattis made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the fourth. Brock Holt (3 for 4, run, walk) cut it to 2-1 with an RBI double in the fifth that scored Ross.

For the second weekend in a row, the Red Sox square off with the Rays (23-31, 5th in AL East). The good news for Boston is that they can't possibly do any worse over these next three games at Fenway as they did last weekend (3-game sweep at Tropicana Field). Brandon Workman (0-0) faces David Price (4-4) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN), Rubby De La Rosa makes his 2014 Red Sox debut on Saturday night (7:15, Fox) vs. Jake Odorizzi (2-4) and Jon Lester (5-6) looks to bounce back on Sunday afternoon (1:35, NESN) vs. Erik Bedard (2-3).

Boston is 1.5 games ahead of Tampa Bay who come into town having lost three in a row. A good weekend by the Red Sox would push the Rays further back into last-place, where it looks like they'll remain all season in the mediocre AL East.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's The Little Things: Red Sox Pick Up Their 1st 3-Game Win Streak of 2014

Don't look now but there might actually be a reason to tune into the Red Sox this summer besides new material to use to make fun of them. After losing 10 games in a row, Boston (23-29 overall, 11-17 home) has begun to find some stability with three straight wins (last team in MLB to do that) vs. fraudulent Atlanta (28-24 overall, 10-12 away). Tonight, the 2004 Red Sox were honored at Fenway Park (for the second time, don't forget 2008) which served as the perfect opener for a solid 4-0 win by the current iteration over the Braves.

John Lackey (6-3) was excellent (6.1 IP, 0 earned runs, 8 hits, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks) and three relievers got the final eight outs. Neither Lackey nor Jon Lester are aces in the true sense but at least Lackey has been the stopper so far this season when the Red Sox need it. Chris Capuano got out of a bases loaded jam to end the seventh while Junichi Tazawa had a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts and Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless ninth. Koji Uehara started to get loose in the ninth after Breslow gave up a single but thankfully, he wasn't used for the third game in a row.

Atlanta starter Gavin Floyd (0-2) was fine (5 IP, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks) except that he racked up pitches (106) at a Dice-K pace. Daniel Nava grounded into a double play in the second but a run scored. A.J. Pierzynski (2 for 4) had an RBI single in the third, Jackie Bradley Jr. (2 for 4) added an RBI double in the sixth and Jonny Gomes (2 for 3, 2 runs, walk) capped it with a run-scoring single in the seventh.

Xander Bogaerts continues to rake as he went 3 for 4 with a double, run and walk. Boston was 5 for 14 with runners and scoring position which made up for leaving 11 men on base. Conversely, Atlanta (who has looked terrible most of this series) was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and they left 10 on base.

Boston will look to go 4-0 vs. Atlanta and its second consecutive sweep in this bizarre home and home as Jake Peavy (1-2) faces Mike Minor (2-3) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN). Earlier today, Clay Buchholz was put on the DL with a hyperextended knee (wink wink, nudge nudge). Alex Wilson is back from Pawtucket while headcase Buchholz tries to get his mind right.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy Memorial Day from the Red Sox

As you would expect, the Red Sox' first win in nearly two weeks (May 14 at Minnesota, same night the Bruins were eliminated by the Canadiens) couldn't be simple and straight forward. Nope, their 8-6 win over the Braves on Memorial Day afternoon at Turner Field in the series opener had to include a rain delay that was one hour and 26 minutes long. The game itself was wacky enough as Boston (21-29 overall, 11-12 away) trailed Atlanta (28-22 overall, 18-11 home) 6-1 after four innings as they rallied to snap a 10-game losing streak.

The two biggest hits for the Red Sox were provided by none other than Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in the fifth inning. Pedroia roped a two-run single then Ortiz crushed a three-run bomb to left center, his team-leading 12th of the season. Boston went ahead for good with a pair of runs in the seventh on Ortiz's sacrifice fly and an RBI single by A.J. Pierzynski.

Due to Clay Buchholz (8 walks) leaving after only three plus innings, in addition to the rain delay, Boston needed six relievers to piece it together but somehow they managed to pull it off. Burke Badenhop allowed two inherited runners from Buchholz's mess to score but got all three outs in the fourth, Chris Capuano had a scoreless fifth with one strikeout, Edward Mujica (2-1) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win, Junichi Tazawa had a 1-2-3 7th, Andrew Miller picked up his second hold with a scoreless eighth then Koji Uehara notched his tenth save in only eight pitches.

Boston had scored first, on Jackie Bradley's sacrifice fly in the third but Atlanta put up three runs in both the third and fourth innings. Justin Upton had a two-run double in the third and Gerald Laird notched an RBI single. The Upton brothers (don't forget that jackass B.J.) both had RBI doubles in the fourth and Andrelton Simmons closed out their scoring with an RBI single.

Jon Lester (4-6) faces Aaron Harang (4-4) tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) in the pseudo series finale as the Braves come (back) to Boston for two more games starting on Wednesday. Cool schedule right?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Longest Losing Streak In 20 Years For the Red Sox Deserves a Mention

Believe me, there have been so many times in the last few weeks that I have wanted to write a Red Sox post but by the time their game ends (in a depressing loss), I am so disgusted that I don't bother. Well after losing 8-5 to the Rays this afternoon at Tropicana Field, I feel like I need to acknowledge Boston's (20-29 overall, 10-12 away) worst losing streak (10 games) in 20 years.

Tampa Bay (23-28 overall, 12-14 home) started the weekend series in last place in the pathetic AL East but after sweeping the Red Sox, they are now two games ahead of them. If that wasn't all bad enough, Boston became a disgrace (and I don't throw that word around lightly) in today's series finale by taking exception to stupid Yunel Escobar and starting one of those lame "baseball brawls."

Jonny Gomes was the main culprit for Boston as he came over and tried to get at Escobar who had been yelling and pointing in Boston's dugout after stealing third up 8-3 in the seventh (who cares?). Gomes could be suspended which wouldn't help the Red Sox who also put Mike Napoli on the DL earlier in the day with his finger injury (which surprise surprise hasn't magically worked itself out). There are many things in life I have no use for and baseball's unwritten rules along with fake tough guys (Gomes, Escobar, A.J. Pierzynski) are enough to make me cringe.

During the losing streak, Boston has been swept by Detroit, Toronto and Tampa Bay. This series was particularly painful since as I mentioned, the Rays are equally terrible plus Boston lost on a walk-off hit on Friday (1-0), on an error in the 15th inning on Saturday then capped off by this monstrosity. It's reached the point, much like 2012, where I tune in solely to see what new way they'll find to lose a game.

Brandon Workman made his first start of the season, taking Felix Doubront's place. He went five innings and allowed three earned runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks. The issue, as it's been for much of this slide, has been Boston's awful offense. The immortal Jake Odorizzi went six innings and held them to one earned run on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Brock Holt gave Boston a short-lived 1-0 lead in the third with a sacrifice fly. Tampa Bay scored twice in the fourth on Evan Longoria's (3 for 5, 2 runs) solo homer and an RBI single by Logan Forsythe. Two runs came across in the fifth for the Rays on ground outs.

Before he had to be a hero, Gomes actually did something useful on the field with a two-run homer in the seventh (his 5th of the season) that tied it at three. The wheels came off for the Red Sox in the seventh as light-hitting Sean Rodriguez crushed a three-run homer and Escobar added a two-run double. Xander Bogaerts (2 for 4, double) had a two-run single in the ninth but that meant absolutely nothing.

All we keep hearing is that it's still early and the Red Sox are better than this. Fair enough but no team has lost 10 games in a row then won the World Series that same season. I don't know what it would be specifically but if things don't improve drastically, like in the next few days, it's up to GM Ben Cherington to make a big trade to shake things up. Otherwise, this team is going nowhere and it promises to be a miserable summer.

It is a funky schedule this week as they play two in Atlanta (28-21 overall, 1st in NL East) starting tomorrow afternoon (1:10, NESN) then host the Braves for two games at Fenway Park followed by three games next weekend at home vs. Tampa Bay. Another win before May ends would be nice. Clay Buchholz (2-4) faces Ervin Santana (4-2) tomorrow at Turner Field followed by Jon Lester (4-6) vs. Aaron Harang (4-4) on Tuesday (7:10, NESN).

UPDATE 5/26: The Red Sox sent Alex Wilson back to Pawtucket and called up catcher/1st baseman Ryan Lavarnway (with Napoli out).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Red Sox Still Love Them Some Drew Brothers

So far in 2014, the defending World Series champs have been on the fast track to nowhere. A big reason that the Red Sox have been so mediocre is that three of their young players expected to have big roles-Xander Bogaerts (.269 batting average, 2 homers, 7 RBIs), Jackie Bradley Jr. (.205 batting average, .303 OBP, 13 RBIs) and Will Middlebrooks (.197 batting average, 2 homers, 9 RBIs)-aren't playing up to their projected capabilities. Today, Boston began to rectify that by signing shortstop Stephen Drew to a one-year deal worth $10 million (the prorated portion of $14.1 million that he turned down in the offseason). Yes the same guy that was a puddle at the plate last October but at least played outstanding and reliable defense.

I would love to ask "has it really come to that?" but the sad answer is that yes it has. With Middlebrooks on the DL (broken finger) as usual and Bogaerts playing subpar defensively at shortstop, this move at least makes sense at this moment. Drew will join the team tomorrow vs. Toronto at Fenway and probably slide into the everyday shortstop spot for the time being while Bogaerts shifts to third base. Where this leaves Middlebrooks when he returns is anyone's guess (trade bait?).

The main worry for the Red Sox is that this shakes Bogaerts' (4 errors, .974 fielding percentage) confidence since you know, he is still only 21 years old despite being their top prospect and one of the best young players in MLB with a veteran's mindset. He at least has started to come around more at the plate so the last thing they need is for him to go in the tank with Drew back on the team playing what he probably perceives as his natural position.

Bigger picture, this is the first sign that the Red Sox (20-23 overall, 3 games back of 1st place New York) publicly acknowledge that they are flawed. Fans have been saying as much basically since the first week of the season but at least now we understand that the front office is on the same page. It looks like the AL East is very down so even if the Red Sox aren't a 95 or 100-win team this season, 90 wins or something around that would take it.

The obvious roster move is that Brock Holt could be sent back to Pawtucket but Mike Carp and Grady Sizemore shouldn't feel too comfortable either since they could be designated for assignment. It should be an interesting few days for the Red Sox with all these uncertain roster moves on the horizon.

Ty Law Will Be Inducted Into the Patriots Hall of Fame This Summer

The best cornerback in Patriots history will be rightfully inducted into the team's Hall of Fame this summer. In his first year of eligibility, Ty Law was voted in by the fans over fellow cornerback Raymond Clayborn and head coach Bill Parcells. Law's induction ceremony will take place on Friday, August 1 at 4:30 p.m. (it is free and open to the public).

"Ty Law was one of the greatest players in franchise history and one of the premier corners in the NFL during his Patriots career,” Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. "The fans have helped validate that with this year’s hall of fame selection. We have had an incredible run of success and the building blocks started with players like Ty. He was an important part of three Super Bowl championship teams. It will be an honor to bring Ty back to celebrate his career as he takes his rightful place in our team’s hall of fame. I am sure he will deliver another memorable moment during his hall of fame ceremony, too."

The three finalists were chosen by a committee made up of media members (try not to laugh), team officials and former Patriots. Clayborn had no chance since he played not that recently (hence people that saw him probably aren't voting in this) while apparently New England fans still hold a grudge (surprise, surprise) against Parcells for leaving immediately after the Super Bowl for the Jets. He's been a finalist before and lost so you can expect to see this happening over and over again as all the great players from Law's era start to get nominated.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

So Far This Season: The Tigers are Good & The Red Sox Are Not, It's As Simple As That

To start their biggest series so far in 2014, the Red Sox might as well have stayed home (at least they would have stayed dry) as they were blanked 1-0 by the Tigers tonight at rainy Fenway Park. In a rematch of the 2013 ALCS, soon-to-be free agent ace Max Scherzer (6-1; 6 innings, 3 hits, 7 strikeouts, 4 walks) was a little better than soon-to-be free agent ace Jon Lester (4-5; 5 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks) as Boston (20-21 overall, 10-12 home) fell back below .500 while Detroit (25-12 overall, 12-4 away) keeps setting the pace in the AL in terms of best winning percentage.

There was a 47-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth with the Tigers up 1-0 but as you can tell, it didn't disrupt either pitcher that much since they both returned to the mound when they game restarted. Scherzer threw 106 pitches and Lester was yanked after 94. The only run in the game was in the first as ageless Torii Hunter (2 for 4) singled in Ian Kinsler.

Boston had no extra base hits and they were limited to just five hits overall. They were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and left five men on base. You know that things are really going well for Detroit since former Yankees overhyped bum Joba Chamberlain pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the hold. This might be a slight exaggeration but I don't think Joba ever had a 1-2-3 inning while he was with New York vs. Boston, at least not in his last few forgettable years.

Detroit closer Joe Nathan pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with one strikeout for his 11th save of the season. Boston will try to bounce back and get to .500 again tomorrow night (7:10, NESN) as John Lackey (5-2) faces Rick Porcello (6-1) who finally seems to have figured things out.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Well It Doesn't Get Much More Bitter Than That: Losing Game 7 at the Garden to the Canadiens

Ugh, that's about all I can say. The Bruins were on the short list of true Cup contenders in the NHL this season but that matters little now since they were unceremoniously bounced 3-1 by the Canadiens in Game 7 at TD Garden this evening. Montreal advances to the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Rangers while Boston is left to wonder what happened after they blew a 3-2 series lead. It's going to be a long summer in the Hub for a team that rightfully had very high expectations for itself and not getting out of the second round hardly cuts it.

As they have all series long, Boston was forced to chase Montreal as they fell behind by two goals for the fifth time (not a winning strategy by any means). Dale Weise scored at 2:18 on an easy tap-in from Daniel Briere and the game might as well have been stopped there since the team that scored first had won every game. Boston couldn't really get out of their own way in the first as even captain Zdeno Chara wasn't himself getting called not once but twice for holding.

The Canadiens proved to be the far more dangerous and deeper team as the series progressed. Max Pacioretty who got untracked with his breakaway goal in Game 6, scored a similarly huge goal in the second period at 10:22-a one-timer from David Desharnais after multiple Bruins including Mr. Selke Patrice Bergeron failed to clear the puck.

Boston finally got on the board at 17:59 as Jarome Iginla tipped in Torey Krug's shot from the point, a power play goal and his fifth overall in the postseason. That's all that Carey Price (29 saves) would allow though and once more, he was better than Tuukka Rask (15 saves). Of course, Rask and the B's also had what the British call "Buzzard's luck" as illustrated by the final Montreal goal-Briere's harmless pass deflected off Chara's skate into the net. It was a fitting end for a team that scored one goal in its final two games and basically forgot how to score. Iginla hit the post with a backhander earlier in the third.

This truly sucks, hockey season is abruptly over and now all we have for months upon months is tedious regular season baseball. Sorry Revs and Cannons, I kind of pay attention to you but nobody else does. The part that really hurts is having to admit that grimy Montreal actually deserved this since they carried play for most of the series. Our worst fears came to life as Boston consistently loses their focus against cheap but effective Montreal. It also helps that the Canadiens have a bevy of guys that can shoot the puck in the ocean which the Bruins sadly do not.

In closing, go Rangers/Blackhawks and Ducks/Kings. I don't think that we can stand much more success for joke city Montreal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Did the Bruins Even Bother Showing Up for Game 6 in Montreal?

What's that, you thought that the Bruins would make life easier for themselves and eliminate the Canadiens in six games? Oh, well you must be new around here. One of the things you can count on in the last decade is for Boston-Montreal series to go the distance no matter what. After the Canadiens rolled 4-0 over the Bruins tonight in a Game 6 win at Bell Centre that felt more like 10-0, the teams will play a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday (7, NBCSN) at TD Garden. It's the fourth time since 2004 that they've gone seven games against each other.

This never seemed in doubt either as Montreal scored 2:11 into regulation (Lars Eller after a brutal turnover by Kevan Miller in his own end) then added a Max Pacioretty breakaway goal in the second period at 15:24 followed shortly after by Thomas Vanek's power play goal at 17:39. Boston was back to its pop gun ways: Loui Eriksson hit another crossbar, Milan Lucic missed a stunningly easy shot with Carey Price (26 saves; 4th career postseason shutout) out of position and there was even a shot that bounced off Carey and behind him but spun back away from the goal line so it wasn't a goal. I've never seen something like that happen before in my life.

As always with losses by Boston teams, fans were quick to blame someone rather than crediting an opposing team that simply kicked their ass all night. Tuukka Rask (24 saves) actually kept the B's in it for a while including an incredible save with his stick laid on the ice. It's tough to bash him for Eller's goal since it happened in a split second right in front of him. For Pacioretty's, Rask seemed to get caught trying to decide between coming out more to poke it or not with Zdeno Chara skating with Pacioretty. Unfortunately, the B's captain lost the race which was a fitting metaphor for their poopy Game 6 performance.

Vanek's second goal was a de facto empty netter since Rask was still coming off for an extra attacker when the puck went in. After putting together their best win of the series and maybe postseasonin Game 5, it was surprising that the B's laid suck a huge egg in their worst game of the postseason. With any luck, they've already forgotten about this debacle as they try to focus on Game 7. The Bruins earned the President's Trophy which means that the most important game of their season comes on their home ice. Boston has to be happy just to be out of Montreal where they went 1-2 and were outscored 8-3 in this series.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Patriots Finally Get a Legitimate Backup QB: Jimmy Garoppolo

We all know that Ryan Mallett is horrible and will never be a starter in the NFL. Also, Tom Brady turns 37 in August so while he's still playing at a very high level and signed through 2017, it's time to start thinking about the future as well since Mallett's contract runs out this year and there are rumors of Houston wanting him. The Pats showed their true intentions tonight in this most important department by using a second-round pick (62nd overall) on Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo.

I actually saw him in a couple games since I love watching the FCS playoffs but I'm not going to be able to dissect his game like I'm Mel Kiper or local homeboy Tood McShay. This is what we know: he's relatively big (6-foot-3, 222 pounds), mobile with a good arm and he won the Walter Payton Award (the Heisman for FCS players). I was hoping that the Patriots would select Alabama QB A.J. McCarron and not just so I could ogle that smokeshow Katherine Webb, he seemed like a perfect fit. Still, Garoppolo is intriguing and the good news is that he might only be the third quarterback this season so he has plenty of time to learn the playbook and get used to life in the NFL.

None of us want to admit it or really think about it (for obvious reasons) but at some point, Brady won't be New England's starting quarterback anymore. Odds are that day isn't too far away so the sooner the Patriots address this the better. As I said, the limited amount that we've seen Mallett in the preseason is enough to show that he's a complete stiff. A very poor man's Drew Bledsoe if you will: huge, cannon arm, not mobile at all and really slow to get rid of the ball. Brady and Peyton Manning are the outliers in today's NFL. You need a quarterback these days that can at least move a little bit so in that regard, Garoppolo could be the guy somewhere down the road. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Say It with Me Patriots Fans: Value

Objective Patriots fans (an oxymoron) have to say that tonight's first round pick-defensive tackle Dominique Easley (29th overall)- in the 2014 NFL Draft was both a good sign and a bad sign for the team. The fact that New England kept the pick and didn't start its usual frustrating pattern of trading down for mostly buckets of crap was nice as hopefully they have realized that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won't be around forever. You have to do everything you can to win with them and surround them with plenty of talent to maximize their championship window. Still, did they really have to take a guy with two ACL tears at the University of Florida (to both knees) this high?

If he didn't get hurt, he could have been a mid-first round pick but who were they bidding against now? When he's healthy, Easley can play defensive end and defensive tackle. New England's defensive linemen are either old and recovering from injuries or young scrubs. In the past, Belichick has enjoyed success with former Gators: Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes most recently come to mind, Chad Jackson and Jermaine Cunningham not so much. It Is still scary that Belichick seems to always pick players that were recruited by or played for his close buddies (Nick Saban and Urban Meyer) or Rutgers in college.

The only thing more pointless than mock drafts is draft grades that come out the same night/weekend of the actual event. Who knows anything until these guys actually get to training camp and start playing in preseason games let alone complete a few seasons in the NFL. Until then, we'll just conclude that everyone is perfect. Rounds 2 and 3 are tomorrow night (7, ESPN2) at Radio City Music Hall. For what it's worth, New England has two picks: No. 62 in the second round and No. 93 in the third. I'll eat my hat if they keep both of those as well. Their other most obvious needs are safety, linebacker, tight end, wide receiver and backup quarterback so expect nothing but offensive and defensive linemen.

Matt Fraser Likely Saved the Bruins' Season, Wait What?

Playoff hockey definitely takes years off your life when your favorite team is competing in the NHL postseason but we wouldn't have it any other way, right? In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight at Bell Centre, Boston outlasted Montreal 1-0 in overtime on Matt Fraser's game-winner at 1:19. Yes, you read that correctly: a 23-year-old rookie that was recalled earlier in the day was the main reason that Boston tied the series at two heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday (7, NBCSN).

There really is no way to properly equate how unlikely Fraser was to be the hero but that's one of the million reasons that makes the NHL playoffs superior to any of the other American pro sports-the sheer unpredictability. Johnny Boychuk's shot from the point went wide of Carey Price (34 saves) and bounced up in front of the cage. Carl Soderberg had the first whack at it then Fraser wheeled around the net to poke it in for his first career postseason goal in his first career NHL playoff game. Not a bad night for the other guy from the Tyler Seguin trade (along with Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith).

Tuukka Rask's (33 saves) fifth career postseason shutout wasn't as memorable (at least on his end) as you might expect but he did make a huge save on Brian Gionta's breakaway in the second period. This would have been a horrible loss for the B's, not just because they have never rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in franchise history, but they outplayed the Canadiens for long stretches of this game. Often times, they would dominate possession in Montreal's end but had nothing to show for it. Boston hit the post three more times by Jarome Iginla, Soderberg and Smith. I think that makes nine posts or pipes in the series for them, yikes.

Boston improved to 3-1 on the road this postseason while handing Montreal its first loss (3-1) at the Bell Centre. Game 5 is everything since the teams have alternated wins and losses through the first four games. It would help if the B's scored a power play goal. Again, there were very few penalties (3) but Boston went 0 for 2 on the power play making them 0 for 8 in the series. Technically speaking the team that has scored first is also 4-0.

Fraser and Matt Bartkowski were the two changes to Boston's lineup so expect those to stay the same in Game 5, no need to change the mojo now.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cue the Duckboats, Red Sox Finally Reach .500 Mark Again In 2014!

You know what they say, the ninth time is always the charm. Haha that's how many times it took the Red Sox to reach the .500 mark this season after they went 0-8 when they were one game under .500 following the first couple days. Boston (17-17 overall, 10-11 home) also picked up their first sweep of 2014 as they beat Cincinnati (15-18 overall, 7-11 away) 4-3 tonight at Fenway Park. Granted it was only a two-game set against a banged up and mediocre National League team but the Red Sox will take it and hopefully now they won't look back so they'll continue to climb the standings both in the AL East and AL as a whole.

It was a nice win for the home team for reasons other than what I just led with; they also rallied from two different deficits to come out on top. Skip Schumaker gave the Reds a 2-0 lead with a two-run bomb in the third. It was only the 26th home run of his 10-year MLB career.

Boston tied it in the sixth with a pair of runs on David Ortiz's (2 for 4) RBI single and Mike Napoli's (run, walk) RBI double. Both starting pitchers pitched pretty decently but neither factored into the decision: Mike Leake went seven innings for Cincinnati, allowing two earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and two walks while Jake Peavy went six innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits with four strikeouts and four walks.

The Reds took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on a ground out but the Red Sox answered once again with two runs in the eighth. A.J. Pierzynski (2 for 3, walk) sliced a ground-rule RBI double into the right field stands by the Pesky Pole and Will Middlebrooks followed with one of the bigger hits of his young career-an RBI single.

Boston's bullpen was superb with every guy doing his job: Chris Capuano (1 out), Burke Badenhop (2 outs) and Craig Breslow (2-0; scoreless eighth) paved the way for Koji Uehara's first 1-2-3 inning since April 9. Oh by the way, his eighth save of the season was completed by striking out the side.

The Red Sox get their second off day in the last four days (when does that ever happen without a rain out?) before they go to Texas (17-17 overall, 3rd in AL West) for three this weekend then three in Minnesota (15-17 overall, 4th in AL Central). Boston's next game at Fenway isn't until Friday, May 16 vs. Detroit. Boston always seems to struggle in Texas but at least on paper their pitching matchups look OK: Clay Buchholz (2-2) vs. Yu Darvish (2-1) on Friday (8:05), Jon Lester (3-4) vs. Martin Perez (4-2) on Saturday (8:05, NESN) and John Lackey (4-2) takes on Robbie Ross (1-3) Sunday afternoon (3:05, NESN).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Canadiens Take Game 3, 4-2, For A 2-1 Series Lead Over the Bruins

Around New England if you're a Boston sports fan (and who isn't?), the next couple days are not going to be fun: everyone will be freaking out and there's nothing we can do about it. The Bruins fell 4-2 to the Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Montreal takes a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 on Thursday (7:30, NBCSN).

Shockingly, for the third straight game the B's fell behind by a pair of goals. They upped the torturous ante more as they went down 3-0 before finally waking up late in the second period. Boston expended plenty of energy to get back in it and they did cut it to 3-2 with a few minutes left but the Canadiens held on and added an empty netter by Lars Eller. Montreal had blown two-goal leads in three consecutive games but you will basically never see a three-goal rally especially in this setting.

Tuukka Rask (22 saves) has allowed three goals or more in every contest this series but you'd be hard-pressed to blame any of these on him, particularly the last two. The Canadiens went up 1-0 at 10:57 on Tomas Plekanec's pretty goal, assisted by Thomas Vanek and P.K. Subban. Boston actually received the first power play (which I didn't think was allowed at the Bell Centre) but six seconds after it was fruitlessly over, Subban came out of the box and beat Rask on a breakaway from Lars Eller and Dale Weise at 14:44.

Believe it or not, Boston played pretty well before that but they were understandably stunned by those and even more so when Weise (a complete bum) was sent in on yet another breakaway and he found a way to score at 13:52. At that point, many teams (cough, Lightning) would have been run out of the Bell Centre but the B's showed their usual dose of heart and spirit as Patrice Bergeorn tipped in Torey Krug's shot at 17:48. Bergeron's third goal of the postseason was assisted by Krug and Brad Marchand.

The Bruins carried the momentum but couldn't make it more interesting until it was too late. Where was that playoff urgency in the first period? The Canadiens for all their faults, are not the Red Wings. Nope, this team kept fightning and Jarome Iginla tipped in Andrej Meszaros' shot from the point at 17:44 of the third period. Milan Lucic had the other assist.

Boston generated some decent pressure with Rask pulled but Carey Price (26 saves) and Montreal's shaky defensemen held firm. Eller punctuated the win with his empty netter. I still believe in the B's since they have yet to show anything close to their best performance vs. the Habs. Given the fact that Game 4 is basically a pseudo must-win for the Black and Gold and I think we'll see them bounce back. Nobody said this series would be easy, we have to stay positive.

UPDATE 5/8: In an interesting roster move, the Bruins recalled forward Matt Fraser from Providence and sent Justin Florek back to the Baby B's. This makes it seem like Fraser could be appearing in Game 4, stay tuned.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Welcome To Foxborough (Other Will Smith Voice)

The Patriots made a very Patriots move this afternoon, signing veteran defensive end Will Smith to a deal (terms weren't disclosed). The former Saint and first-round pick in 2004 (18th overall out of Ohio State) played all 10 of his NFL seasons with the Saints (winning a Super Bowl in 2010) and racking up 8.5 sacks three times including a career-high 13 in 2009. So why was one of their best players in franchise history available in early May? He's coming off a torn ACL suffered last preseason that forced him to miss all of 2013.

We've seen this story before: New England signs a washed up defensive end (think Shaun Ellis) who put together a nice NFL career before he comes to the Pats and does basically nothing. All we can hope is that it's a different story with Smith who turns 33 on July 4. The Patriots certainly could use another pass rusher to go with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich who are both very good players in their own right but understandably were worn down by the end of the season after playing over 95% of the defensive snaps.

Smith is fourth in Saints history with 67.5 career sacks. Along with that, he's piled up 320 solo tackles, 133 assists, forced 20 fumbles, recovered seven fumbles, made two interceptions (haha really?) and deflected 25 passes. You can't say that he's injury prone since he played 14+ games including 16 six times before 2013. In 2012, he played in all 16 games and had 58 combined tackles with six sacks and one fumble recovered.

As you can almost always conclude with most free agent moves by the Patriots, this is a low-risk and high-reward signing by them. Smith is a winner-a defensive captain with the Saints-and a big guy (6-foot-3, 282 pounds) so there is plenty to like about seeing him in a Patriots uniform this summer.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Things The Red Sox Don't Like This Season: Sweeping Other Teams & Being At .500 or Better

Listen, coming into the weekend I thought there was no chance that the Red Sox would sweep the A's-the AL's best team-at Fenway Park. However, after Boston (15-17 overall, 8-11 home) won on Friday and Saturday, I was hoping that they could beat Oakland (19-12 overall, 13-6 away) on Sunday for two simple reasons: 1) It would be the first sweep of the season in Boston's favor and 2) they would finally reach the elusive .500 mark (they were 0-7 coming into Sunday afternoon in games where they could get to .500). Naturally, the A's won 3-2 in 10 innings to salvage something from the three games.

Sonny Gray (6 innings, 2 earned runs, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks) and John Lackey (6 innings, 2 earned runs, 5 hits, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks) were both good while each offense conversely couldn't get much going. Oakland took a 1-0 lead in the first on former Red Sox great Brandon Moss' (2 for 4, double) RBI single. Grady Sizemore (2 for 2) tied it with an RBI double in the fifth.

Once again, the A's pulled ahead with an RBI double by Yoenis Cespedes in the sixth. A.J. Pierzynski answered with a solo homer, his third of the season and first at Fenway, in the seventh. Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara all pitched scoreless innings before Chris Capuano (1-1) ran into a little trouble in the 10th. Oakland's winning run was pushed across on an infield single by Cespedes. Boston was shut down by former Orioles closer Jim Johnson (3-2) who got the last five outs of the game.

It is a weird schedule for the Red Sox this week since they are off tomorrow then host Cincinnati (15-16 overall, 3rd in NL Central) for two games before another off-day on Thursday. Felix Doubront (1-3) faces Homer Bailey (2-2) on Tuesday (7:10, NESN) and Jake Peavy (1-1) meets Mike Leake (2-3) on Wednesday (7:10, NESN).

For their sake, the not ready for primetime Red Sox better hope that the Bruins keep advancing in the playoffs, the Celtics win the first pick in the NBA Draft and something interesting happens with the Patriots. Otherwise, people will turn their attention to the Red Sox and as they've proven so far, they are not worth keeping close tabs on so far in 2014.

Bruins Sure Like Their Improbable Rallies In 3rd Periods of Playoff Games

Should the Bruins just start Game 3 down 2-0 and skip the first two periods of play? That seems to be when Boston excels the most vs. Montreal as they rallied for the second time in two games when they were faced with a two-goal deficit in the third. Instead of 2-0, it was 3-1 on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden in Game 2. However, this time the B's got the job done completely and it didn't even take overtime as they won 5-3 thanks to four goals in the third period (1st time in 3 years they had done that in the playoffs). Now the series is tied 1-1 heading to Montreal for Game 3 on Tuesday (7, NBCSN) and Game 4 on Thursday (7:30, NBCSN).

For whatever reason, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (30 saves) looks unbeatable for the first two periods before he becomes a puddle in the third (Boston has outscored Montreal 7-2 in the third). A change in Game 2 was that Boston managed to score the opening goal as Daniel Paille made it 1-0 at 13:02 of the first period. Carl Soderberg and Andrej Meszaros assisted on his first goal of the postseason (in only his second game).

There were way too many penalties on both sides in the first two periods and that clearly favors Montreal who is 4 for 9 on the power play through two games while Boston is 0 for 4. Something named Mike "Dream" Weaver tied it with a screened shot at 1:09. Thomas Vanek came out of the dog house to score not one but two power play goals for the Habs that were eerily similar. He tipped in P.K. Subban's shot at 18:09 of the second then did the same thing at 6:30 of the third for a commanding 3-1 lead (or so we thought).

The Bruins came roaring back as Dougie Hamilton cut it to 3-2 at 10:56. That was his second goal of the postseason and the wicked wrister was assisted by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The Garden exploded less than three and a half minutes later as Patrice Bergeron's harmless flip on net deflected off Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillon. Bergy's second goal of the playoffs was again assisted by Marchand who quietly has four assists vs. Montreal.

The Canadiens had already burned their timeout so they could do nothing as Reilly Smith scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 16:28. His third goal of the postseason and second of the series was assisted by Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. Milan Lucic's empty-netter sealed a truly remarkable and also vital win.

We still haven't seen the best of Tuukka Rask (25 saves) in this series which means it should be coming in Montreal. Boston needs to win at least one of those games so they might as well start it off with Game 3 and put some pressure back on the Canadiens. We should all be thankful to have an extra day to get ready for Game 3 since you know there will be numerous calls and plays that will drive us bananas. Oh joy, looking forward to it!

UPDATE 5/4: I had honestly forgotten about him but defenseman Adam McQuaid is officially out for the rest of the season following ankle surgery.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Montreal Takes Game 1, 4-3 in 2OT

It's only one game but you can feel that the next few weeks are going to be full of some intense NHL playoff games between the blood rival Bruins and Canadiens. Montreal won Game 1 tonight at TD Garden, 4-3 in 2OT on P.K. Subban's power play goal (his second of the game). There is something about Game 1s this postseason that apparently don't agree with Boston as they lost their second in a row. Unlike the one vs. Detroit where they were shut out 1-0, this time they rallied from down 2-0 with three goals in the third period but still came up short.

Boston had 51 shots on goal but Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (48 saves) played about as well as he could plus he was helped out by countless Bruins bungling fantastic chances to score. Montreal built the 2-0 advantage thanks to Subban's power play goal at 11:23 of the first period, a wrist shot through traffic that Tuukka Rask (29 saves) never seemed to pick up.

The Canadiens doubled their lead early in the second period as Rene Bourque beat Rask through his five-hole at 3:38. Boston finally woke up in the third period, in a big way. Reilly Smith cut it to 2-1 at 2:44, his screened shot from the sidewall was his second of the playoffs and it was assisted by Brad Marchand and Dougie Hamilton. Another Bruins youngster stepped up as Torey Krug tied it at two at 6:30 with one of his patented low missiles. His second goal of the postseason was assisted by Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron.

Credit to Montreal as all the momentum in the Garden was on Boston's side but still they scored a go-ahead goal at 12:09: Francis Bouillon (what other team would he be on with a name like that?) slammed one home from former BC star Brian Gionta and Bourque. The third period was basically bananas as the team's traded haymakers; Johnny Boychuk's was the last as he tied it at three at 18:02. His Johnny Rocket was his first goal of the postseason, assisted by Marchand and Loui Eriksson. That bomb from the point caught Price off guard (he barely moved) because he was screened beautifully in front of the net.

As always, this game serves as a reminder that anything can happen in overtime. The B's should have wrapped it up in the first overtime since they outshot the Canadiens 14-6. Two penalties ultimately crippled them though as Daniel Paille was called for tripping with 27 seconds left. Boston killed that off but shortly thereafter, Matt Bartkowski was nabbed for holding. Refs never want to make a call in overtime but these two were so obvious that they had to.

Montreal's power play looked like something to fear (2 for 3) and Boston's had an off night (0 for 2) with not enough chances if we're being honest. It's probably best for the Bruins that Game 2 is so close by on Saturday (12:30, NBC), therefore they don't have to let the pain of Game 1 fester for too long. It's not a must-win but they could really use a victory before they head to the Bell Centre where it is really hard for visiting teams to win.