The Road to October

It’s been a long time since I have sat down to write about the state of the Red Sox.  A lot has happened in that time.  But the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Red Sox are in first place, just like they were on July 17.  They sit atop the American League East with a 3 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  According to my calculations, the magic number to clinch the division is 49.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Red Sox is the addition of Jake Peavy.  Peavy was excellent in his Red Sox debut at imagesFenway Park against the Diamondbacks.  He went 7 innings allowing 1 run in the victory.  He was not as good in his next appearance against the Royals where he was only able to get through 5 innings.  I love the Peavy deal.  Jose Iglesias is nothing more than a gold glove shortstop with a below average bat.  Turing Jose Iglesias into Jake Peavy is the equivalent of turning water into wine, Ben Cherington should be worshiped by the apostles of Red Sox Nation for performing this miracle.  Peavy is under contract through next season.  When healthy he adds a quality arm to the rotation.  I hate to use tired clichés, but nothing is more true than the old adage, “You can’t have enough pitching.”  With guys like Xander Boegarts, Will Middlebrooks, and Garin Cecchini in the pipeline, Iglesias was more than expendable.  If the Red Sox are able to get into the playoffs, I believe Jake Peavy is your Game 3 starter behind Lester and Buchholz.

 

Speaking of Jon Lester, his season has continued to be a roller coaster ride.  In April he was lights out going 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA.  He had an ok May going 2-2 with a 3.91 ERA before a brutally atrocious June.  In June Lester threw up a 7.62 ERA in five starts.  I have actually been encouraged by what I have seen from Lester lately.  He recovered nicely after a difficult first inning against Kansas City.  His defense wasn’t very helpful in that one either.  Since the All Star Break, Lester is 2-1 with a 3.28 ERA.  He is using his fastball a lot more than he has in previous months.  His command is coming back.  I believe the addition of Jake Peavy will help Lester immensely.  Many people in Red Sox Nation are down on Lester.  I am not among them.  I believe Lester is your Game 2 starter when the playoffs commence.

Believe it or not, I like the way the bullpen is starting to shape up.  Koji Uehara is your closer.  His WHIP this season? A mind images-1blowing 0.69.  I don’t understand why his 89-90 MPH fastball is blowing the opposition away.  He has 74 strikeouts in just 53.1 innings!  Junichi Tazawa is your right-handed set up man.  He has been fairly consistent all season long.  What’s best about Tazawa? He rarely gives his opposition a free pass.  He has walked just 8 men in 54 innings.  Ruby Delarosa is another right-handed option aside Tazawa.  He featured an impressive 98 MPH fastball and a diabolical changeup. Craig Breslow and Drake Britton are your left-handed options in the pen at the moment.  I am interested to see what the Red Sox do with Franklin Morales now that he is eligible to come off the disabled list.  Will the Red Sox carry 3 lefties in the pen?  Maybe they will make Morales the left-handed long reliever with Brandon Workman as the right-handed long man.  I have said it time and time again.  Workman reminds me of Justin Masterson and Bronson Arroyo with his ability to give the Sox 3 innings out of the pen.  The last idea for the bullpen will be Ryan Dempster.  When Clay Buchholz returns, someone will get moved to a relief role.  My money is on Dempster.  He has had success out of the bullpen in years past, and I believe his slider and sinker are weapons that can be used when the Red Sox need a double play late in the game.

I could go on a long diatribe about the frustrations of owning Mike Napoli in fantasy baseball have brought me.  The fact is Napoli is striking out way too often as of late.  I don’t want to get to down on Napoli because he is one of the streakiest hitters in baseball.  Optimistic me says Napoli will be okay and a power display is coming soon.

Count me as one of the few happy to see Will Middlebrooks get one final chance before the arrival of Xander Boegarts.  I images-2loved WMB last season before he broke his hand.  The kid can hit.  I am hoping he has the mental problems worked out after a stint in Pawtucket.  Middlebrooks reached base 4 times in his first two games back with the big club.  He knocked in two runs and scored twice.  The Red Sox could really use the Middlebrooks of last year at this point.  Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt are nice and all, but they are utility guys off the bench.  Nothing more.  If Napoli continues to struggle, the Red Sox will need a bat to put behind Ortiz.  Middlebrooks would be that guy.

The Sox have a somewhat easy schedule before they meet with the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers (which will be an interesting series for a variety of reasons).  They travel to Toronto for a three game set, come home to Fenway for three against the Yanks, before flying out to San Francisco to take on the Giants.  In the same stretch, the Rays have the Mariners, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  Hopefully the Sox can maintain or even extend that three game lead.

I CAN BE FOLLOWED ON TWITTER @SCOTTIENTCF

The New Look New England Patriots

As you all have heard by now, the 2013 New England Patriots will look nothing like the 2012 version of New England’s favorite football team.  Tom Brady’s top 5 receivers, and 6 of the top 8, from 2012 are either gone (Welker, Lloyd, Hernandez, Woodhead, Branch) or will likely start the season on the PUP (Gronkowski).  The new infusion of receivers is led by Danny Amendola, and consists of several rookies that were productive in college, but as we all know, that is not a barometer of success in the NFL.  If you listen to sports talk radio, read the local newspaper, and have Patriot-based conversations with your buddies, you are sure to have heard about how tough of a transition that 2013 will be for Tom Brady, how much the Pats will have to rely on the run game, and how the Miami Dolphins might challenge the Pats for the AFC East.  Well, never fear, Mattyoshow is here is dispel these ridiculous notions and assure you why the 2013 version of the New England Patriots will contend for yet another Super Bowl.

Offensively, the Patriots are expected to have some difficulty.  As I previously mentioned, there has been a lot of turnover at both wide receiver and tight end.  However, unlike most, the turnover doesn’t worry me.  Let’s start with what we know to be fact.  Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012.  Ridley ran for all of those yards while Tom Brady was completing 401 passes for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns.  Ridley ran for all of those yards while only taking 55% of the teams carries (290 of 523 total carries).  Stevan Ridley ran for all of those yards behind an offensive line that was able to dominate the line of scrimmage at various points in games.  That is the same offensive line that is returning all 5 starters for the 2013 season, while also grooming dominant run blocker Marcus Cannon to be their new starting right guard.  Aside from Ridley, the Patriots backfield will contain an improved and more experienced Shane Vereen, two short-yardage specialists in LaGarette Blount and Brandon Bolden, and a proven change-of-pace back and return specialist in Leon Washington.  I expect the New England Patriots’ run game to be a force in 2013, and will help take some of the load off of Tom Brady.

While many are predicting a near-apocalypse for the Patriots’ receiving corps, I think that they will produce well.  If we begin to consider pure talent, the 2013 New England Patriots might boast their most talented group of receivers since 2007, when the Pats had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Kelly Washington (and I wouldn’t be ready to induct that group into the Hall of Fame).  Amendola has proven that he can produce when he stays on the field.  Even with that said, I’m not as concerned with Amendola’s health as almost everyone else is.  Amendola tallied 14 games in 2009 and 16 in 2010 with the Rams.  In 2011 he suffered a rare elbow dislocation that cost him all but 1 game, and in 2012 he fell victim to a freak clavicle dislocation (which was millimeters from killing him), where he only missed 5 games.  Julian Edelman has produced in the Patriots’ system before, and will have to take a step forward in 2013.  Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are rookies, but all reports from training camp have portrayed them as being very studious, picking up the offense quickly, and making an impact in practice.  The Patriots tallest receiver in 2012 was Brandon Lloyd at 6’0”.  Aaron Dobson is 6’3”.  Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has been receiving high praise from the coaching staff and defensive players.  Kenbrell Thompkins is 6’1”.  Aqib Talib is on record speaking about Dobson and Thompkins saying, “[Dobson’s] got good releases off the line, that’s what I think he does real good. Him, KT [Thompkins], they’re both pretty good at releasing off the line.  I don’t know what it is, speed, quickness, strength. You either got it or you don’t. They got it.”  That’s pretty high praise for a top-notch NFL corner.  Will there be some learning curve associated with plugging in this many new pieces?  Yes, absolutely.  Will Tom Brady still be Tom Brady in 2013?  Yes, absolutely.  Will the 2013 version of the Patriots’ receiving corps be able to produce similar numbers to the 2012 version?  Yes, absolutely.

Arguably the biggest reason in my mind that the 2013 New England Patriots will once again contend for a Super Bowl is because of one thing, defense.  The defense for the New England Patriots will dominate in 2013.  After years of gathering talent, this is a group that is ready to impress.  Reports from training camp indicate that Devin McCourty has been splitting time between corner and free safety.  This off-season, they resigned Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington.  Pending an unforeseen result from his August DUI hearing, Alfonzo Dennard will be looking to retain his spot as the starting corner opposite of Talib.  Don’t forget about Ras-I Dowling as well, who has a ton of talent (if he can ever stay on the field).  Aside from those veterans, the Patriots also have brought in some young talent at corner in 3rd round draft pick Logan Ryan and undrafted free agent Brandon Jones.  The Patriots are also loaded at safety, with Adrian Wilson taking most of the 1st team reps at SS.  He has been spelled by Steven Gregory and Tavon Wilson.  The Patriots also have young safeties Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner getting reps as well.

Even with the depth in the secondary, the strength of the Patriots’ defense is in the front seven.  No matter the front (whether 4-3 or 3-4), the Patriots are loaded up front.  The linebacking core will consist primarily of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Don’t’a Hightower.  In the 3-4 front, Rob Ninkovich will kick outside to be their 3-4 OLB opposite of Hightower.  Up front, Chandler Jones and Nonkovich will start at defensive end, with Wilfork and newcomer Tommy Kelly plugging up the middle.  There is a ton of talent in the group that I just mentioned, but the depth of this Patriots team is what will make them excel.  In passing situations, the Pats will be able to substitute in Armond Armstead, who is a pass rushing defensive tackle, to pair with Wilfork/Kelly on the inside.  In 3rd and long situations, the Pats can bring in rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, whose athleticism makes him a scary defender for lineman to block, to group with Hightower, Jones, and Jermaine Cunningham to create an awesome pass-rushing package.  Do not forget about Justin Francis, an undrafted free agent in 2012 that showed he has the skill to rush the passer in the NFL (10 tackles, 3 sacks in 2012), and 2012 3rd round pick Jake BeQuette that will look to contribute in 2013.  As you can see, the Pats are absolutely loaded up front, which should correlate to a much-improved defense in 2013.

Keep tuning into your favorite sports radio station.  Keep reading your morning newspaper.  Keep having Patriot-based conversations with your buddies.  By all means, formulate your own opinions and stick with them throughout the season.  However, when it’s the end of December and we are looking at a New England Patriots team that is 12-4, won the AFC East by 4 games, and boasts a top-5 offense and defense in the NFL, don’t say you didn’t see it coming.  Just remember, when the Pats are fighting for another shot at a Super Bowl, Mattyoshow tried to tell you that this was going to happen it August.

Even if 2013 is a miserable season for the Patriots, God is on our side…because we’ve got TEBOW!!